Reading Poetry Strategies for Understanding Poems
Speaker • The speaker is the imaginary voice you hear when you read a poem – who is “saying” the poem. Example: • A young girl in middle school • Edgar Allan Poe • Langston Hughes
Who is “saying” the poem? The speaker isn’t always the poet 1. Identify the Speaker
Who do you think the speaker is in this poem? If I were in charge of the world I’d cancel oatmeal, Monday mornings, Allergy shots, and also Sara Steinberg. If I were in charge of the world There’d be brighter night lights, Healthier hamsters, and Basketball baskets forty-eight inches lower. If I were in charge of the world You wouldn’t have lonely. You wouldn’t have clean. You wouldn’t have bedtimes. Or “Don’t punch your sister.” You wouldn’t even have sisters. If I were in charge of the world A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts would be a vegetable.
Speaker Answer: • The speaker is probably a young boy, about 10-13 years old. • We can tell this by the things he would change if he were in charge of the world. • The height of basketball hoops • The treatment of his sister
Poetry uses all five (5) senses Use the sounds, smells, etc. to help yourself paint a mental picture of what the poem is describing Basho An old silent pond, A frog jumps into the pond, Splash! Silence again. Soseki Over the wintry forest, Winds howl in a rage With no leaves to blow. 2. Use Your Senses
Much of poetry is musical – it’s designed to be heard rather than read. Either read the poem aloud or listen to someone else read it. “Boa Constrictor” by Shel Silverstein Oh, I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor, A boa constrictor, A boa constrictor, I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor And I don’t like it – one bit. Well, what do you know? It’s nibbling’ my toe. Oh, gee, It’s up to my knee. Oh my, It’s up to my thigh. Oh, fiddle, It’s up to my middle. Oh, heck, It’s up to my neck. Oh, dread, It’s upmmmmmmmmmfffffffff... 3. Listen
Pause at commas, semicolons, and end marks (?, !, .) Only pause at the end of the line if it has a comma, semicolon, or end mark at the end of it. “On the Skateboard” by Lillian Morrision Skimming an asphalt sea, I swerve, I curve, I sway; I speed to whirring sound an inch above the ground; I’m the sailor and the sail, I’m the driver and the wheel I’m the one and only single engine human automobile. 4. Read According to Punctuation
Onomatopoeia • Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates a sound. Examples: Crash, Bang, Plop, Smack
Bram rackety-am-m, OM, Am: All – r-r-room, r-r-ram, alabaster – Am, the world’s my oyster. I hate plastic, wear it black and slick, Hate hardhats, wear one on my head, That’s what the motorcycle said. Answers: bram r-r-room r-r-ram What examples of onomatopoeia are in the following excerpt?
Personification • Personification gives human characteristics of a nonhuman object. Example: - The wind whispered in the trees. (wind whispering) - The stars danced in the skies. (stars dancing)
Late that mad Monday evening, I made mermaids come from sea. As the black sky sat upon the waves, And night came creeping up to me. Answer: The black sky sat upon the waves The sky can’t sit. Night came creeping up to me The night doesn’t creep (walk). Explain the personification in the poem below:
Rhythm • Rhythm is the pattern of beats in a poem. • The pattern is formed by stressed and unstressed syllables. • Not all poems have a rhythm pattern.
Metaphor • A metaphor is the comparison of two objects without using the words “like” or “as.” • Instead of one object being similar to another, one object IS another. Example: - This room is a pigsty!
The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. But the theory now goes That the apple’s a rose, And the pear is and so’s The plum, I suppose. The dear only knows What will next prove a rose. You, of course, are a rose – But were always a rose. Answer: Various fruits (apple, pear, plum) are compared to a rose. The reader is also compared to a rose. What is the metaphor in this poem?
Simile • A simile is a comparison of two objects using the words “like” or “as.” Example: She is as blind as a bat.
Oh, my love’s like a red, red rose That’s newly sprung in June. O, my love is like the melody That’s sweetly played in tune. Answers: Love is compared to a newly blossomed rose. Love is compared to a sweet melody. What is the simile in the following excerpt?
Alliteration • Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. - Often used in tongue twisters. Example: With blare of brass, with beating drums.
Find the alliteration in this excerpt: Little hoppy happy Toad in tweeds Little itchy mice. With scuttling eyes, Rustle and run Hide, hide, hide.
Theme • The theme is the moral or lesson – it’s what the poet is trying to teach the reader. Example: • A hard head makes a soft behind. • It’s better to give than to receive. • Be a leader not a follower.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Answer In this poem, the two roads symbolize two different ways to live life. One is the “traditional” path that everyone takes; the other is one less commonly taken. The theme is that the speaker has found it more beneficial in life to take risks and do things in life that are not necessarily traditional or “safe.” Being unique rather than a follower has made a difference in his life. What is the theme of this poem?
Tone • Tone is the speaker’s attitude or emotions communicated in the words of the poem Example: • Assertive • Pessimistic • Offensive • Optimistic
Imagery • Imagery is the mental pictures the words of the poem create in the reader’s mind. Example: • The baby is a big as an elephant. • She cried like a squeaky bicycle wheel.
A gallon of rich, country cream Hand-whipped into stiff peaks Flung from the beater into dollops across the blue oil cloth. This poem, about cumulus clouds, evokes the image of someone taking fresh whipped cream and flinging it from the beaters into the sky to create the clouds. What imagery does this poem contain?