Reading Poetry

Understanding Poetry

The best way to understand a poem is to feel it.  If the writing style is heavy or archaic, it might take some research to understand aspects of the words, the message, or story.

Read it through once without stopping.

Read it again, slower, making notes and looking up words you don’t recognize or fully understand in context.

Once you’ve found answers to the questions and definitions for words and phrases, read it a third time, out loud.  See if it kindles something within you.

The best aid to breaking down and understanding poetry I found comes from an unlikely source.  Rather than rewrite it in my ow words, I will simply direct you to read eNotes: How to Analyze a Poem.

Types of Poetry

There are (at least) 55 types of poetry.
I don’t expect you to be able to recognize these, but looking through the list will give you a brief introduction to the many ways in which we categorize poems.  Some are free verse (meaning they don’t follow a structure), while others follow structures both rigid and loose.
In our readings together, you’re more likely to see rhyming poetry, sonnets, free verse, haiku, ballads, and odes.  If you pursue Shakespeare, you’ll find multiple examples of sonnets written in iambic pentameter.
While free verse may seem easier to write, and it can be, writing poetry within a given structure or style forces a poet to explore the boundaries of a form.  These boundaries become a challenge that can lead to exceptional pieces of work.  The same is true for writers of fiction who take on the challenge of writing for contests where a topic, time limit (3-Day Novel Writing Contest, NaNoWriMo), or strict word count (flash fiction, six word stories) are given as challenges.
When reading the poems the second time, try to take note of any structure you sense within the piece, and consider how the choice of structure shapes the feeling of the poem itself.
If you’re struggling with a poem, or poetry in general, it’s ok.  We’ll discuss it and find a way to make some sense of it all.