Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to read a poem

All poems should be read for pleasure; however, here are some guidelines to keep in mind when reading a poem:

-  Assume that it will be necessary to read a poem more than once.  Give yourself a chance to become familiar with what the poem has to offer.  Like a piece of music, a poem becomes more pleasurable with each encounter.
- Pay attention to the title; it will often provide a helpful context for the poem and serve as an introduction to it.
- Read the poem straight through without stopping to analyze it (aloud, if possible).  This will help you get a sense of how it sounds, how it works, what it might be about.
- Look up words you do not know; these might include names, places, historical and mythical references, or anything else that is unfamiliar to you.
- Look for patterns. Watch for repeated, interesting, or even unfamiliar use of language, imagery, sound, color, or arrangement.  Ask, “What is the poet trying to show through this pattern?”
- Look for changes in tone, focus, narrator, structure, voice, patterns. Ask: “What has changed and what does the change mean?”
- Identify the persona. Who is speaking in the poem?  What is the setting or situation?
- Reread the poem aloud. Paraphrase the poem to determine if you understand what happens in it or what it is about.
- Find the crucial moments. The pivotal moment might be as small as the word but or yet.  Such words often act like hinges within a poem to swing the poem in a whole new direction.
- Consider form and function. Now is a good time to look at some of the poet’s more critical choices. Did the poet use a specific form, such as the sonnet?  Did the poet use specific poetic devices and figures of speech which you should identify so that you can better understand the poem?
- Check for improved understanding. Read the poem aloud through again. Return to the title and ask yourself what the poem is about and how the poem relates to the title.
- Do not expect to produce a definite reading.  Many poems do not resolve all the ideas, issues, or tensions in them.  Do not be afraid that a close reading will damage the poem.  On the contrary, poems come alive as we experience them and put into words what we discover through them.

No comments:

Post a Comment