How to Read and Understand Poetry in 5 Easy Steps


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Most students I ask, say they hate poetry. Why? It doesn't make sense. Why not make it easier to understand for them?

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How to Read and Understand Poetry in 5 Easy Steps

  1. 1. WHAT IS POETRY ANYWAY? • Meaning: what makes it poetry and not something else? • Answer: Canned Soup?
  2. 2. Sometimes the job of the poem is to come closer to saying what cannot be said in other forms of writing, to suggest an experience, idea, or feeling that you can know but not entirely express in any direct or literal way. How does it evoke that feeling? • Word and line arrangements • Sounds and rhythms • Meanings of words (literal and figurative language)
  3. 3. Examining a Poem 1. Before reading a poem there are a few things you can do: • Look at the title • Examine its shape (lines, line breaks, and the way lines are broken into groups= stanzas) • And the length of lines (dense- on a physical level) • Does it look like other poems by this writer?
  4. 4. Reading a Poem • Before anything else, you gotta read it. • Poetry is meant to be heard, so use your voice and your ears!
  5. 5. How do you read a poem? • Lines – – – – – Meaning Sound Rhythm Breath Typography/Font styles – But what if its not so obvious??
  6. 6. What if it’s not so obvious? • End-stopped lineslines that end with punctuation • Lineation- grammar, breath, and line breaks • Reading to the end of a line or following breath.
  7. 7. What if I don’t have a good ear for this? Tricks in punctuation marks
  8. 8. Reading Aloud!
  9. 9. Harlem by Langston Hughes What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
  10. 10. Peeling back the layers
  11. 11. 2. WHO IS THE SPEAKER?
  12. 12. Self-reliance 3. THEME AND TONE Change/growth Identity
  14. 14. Examining Style • IMAGERY – 5 Senses • Figurative Language – Concrete/Abstract – Connotation/Denotation • Symbolism • Punctuation/syntax – capitalization
  15. 15. Examining 5. Sound/Form • • • • • • • • Line Breaks Broken mid-clause (aka. enjambment) End-stopped (pauses or caesuras) First and last words Rhyme/rhythm Stanza length/breaks Repetition Traditional Forms (ballad, sestina, sonnet, etc.)
  16. 16. Let’s look at the whole meaning
  17. 17. Here are a few general questions that you might ask when approaching a poem for the first time: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • " " " " " " " " " " " " " " Who is the speaker? What circumstances gave rise to the poem? What situation is presented? Who or what is the audience? What is the tone? What form, if any, does the poem take? How is form related to content? Is sound an important, active element of the poem? Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment? Does the poem speak from a specific culture? Does the poem have its own vernacular? Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect? What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use? If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
  18. 18. QUESTIONS?