12 July 2011

Pointers on how to read a poem

The creative writing class is going well!  Here's a handout I gave the budding poets this afternoon. . .just a quick & easy list of suggestions and guidelines for reading a poem:

Writing Poetry
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP, PhD
University of Dallas: Summer Two 2011

On Reading a Poem

Read the poem. . .

. . .silently several times. Look up unfamiliar words. Set aside interpretation for now.

. . .out loud, using different tones/voices (calm, angry, a child, a prophet, etc.).

. . .to someone else and have them read it to you.

. . .and record yourself reading it. Replay the recording and listen w/o the text.

. . .and copy it out by hand. Typing it doesn't have the same effect.

. . .and have it read to you while you transcribe what you hear.


Does the poem have an overall “feel,” a tone that pervades it? What is it?

Does the poem have a dominant “voice,” a personality speaking it? Who is it?

Does the poem have a “tense,” that is, an overall sense of a place in time? What is it?

Does the poem have a subject, something or someone that it is about? What? Who?

Does the poem have a “setting,” a place from where or to which it speaks? Where?

Does the poem reveal its reason for existence? Why?

What are the images (“word pictures”) in the poem?

What are the allusions in the poem?

What are the figures of the poem, that is, the metaphors, similes, etc.?

Is there something missing in the poem, something “left out”?

Does the poem have a formal structure (sonnet, sestina, etc.)? How does it use this form?

What are the structural characteristics of the poem (other than the formal)? Line breaks, blank spaces, unusual typography, etc.?  What purposes do they serve?

What sort of language is the poet using—haughty, common, upper-class, ethereal? Why?

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  1. This is really good advice. The simplest part is REPETITION - something that is difficult for us post moderns to do.

  2. Sorry to use your blog for contact, but at a Catholic conference, I met someone who said you loved Emily Dickinson. I have a book called The Farthest thunder, comparing her love with St. John of the Cross, and I was told to see if you would be interested in it.
    Mary Daly
    I assume my e-mail comes up with the comment.

  3. Hedge, your email address didn't pop up. Send it. . .I won't publish it.