A Step-By-Step Guide To Reading A Poem Thoughtfully & Closely By Bradford Carpenter Avon Old Farms School English Department 2012 How To Read A Poem
Step One: Read The Poem • Read it quietly to yourself, and be sure that you read the poem to its punctuation and not to its end-lines. • Read it again out loud. Do your best to “hear” the way the poem sounds as much as you think about what the words mean. • Now, look up all the words you don't know with 100% confidence. Write out their definitions. • Read the poem again. • At this point, you've read the poem no fewer than three times – a good start!
Step Two: Know The Author • Go to Wikipedia or another online source and read about the author. • Gather information about his background and, if he is still living, his current situation. • Understand who the author is as a writer and how his attitudes towards his subjects tends. • Look for additional Internet-based resources on the author and investigate them. • Now, go back and read the poem again (a fourth time!).
Step Three: Make The Poem Yours • Write the poem out by hand observing all line and stanza breaks. • Similarly, type the poem into a document on your computer. • Ignoring line and stanza breaks, write/type the poem out as sentences and/or paragraphs. • (At this point, you've probably now read the poem seven times!)
Step 4: The Poem In Your Voice • Write out the poem line by line again, but this time, paraphrase each line, which means to put each line into different words that mean essentially the same thing. • Next, write out the poem putting each sentence of the poem into your own words, which means you will make it contemporary and vernacular. • (Now, you've likely read the poem at least nine times!)
Step 5: What Does It Mean? • Write a paragraph about what the poem means. This should be done in your own voice and with your own best thoughts about what the poet likely means by his poem. • Write a paragraph about what the poem means to you. First, ask yourself if you like it or not – either answer is valuable since you don't need to like something to have something to say about it. Second, ask yourself what ideas mean something to you, what that something is, and how those ideas resonate with you.
Step 6: Add It All Up • Take the previous five steps and consider all that you know about the poet, the poem, its meaning, and your interpretation of that meaning, and you will find you have a very strong understanding of the poem. • Now, re-read it one more time and enjoy what it means to have a rich relationship to a poem.
Next Steps: Going Deeper • At this point you have a pretty good idea what the poem means and maybe even why the poet wrote what he wrote, but you can still answer the hardest question: “How does the poem mean what it means?” • When a reader asks “how” a writer makes meaning, that reader is wondering about language at the most detailed level. He is wondering how the words work together to form the ideas they do, and this is where the language gets technical.
Technical Words To Describe Poetry • Poetry.org offers a good list of words that readers use to describe the technical effects of a poem. • Go through the list, and see if you can apply at least one term from each category to your poem. Write a sentence out for each of the terms you discover (e.g. Frost uses consonance when he repeats the “d” sounds in his line, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”).