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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to read the lines of a poem and in-between

Lounge back.

Read the poem aloud.

Listen to its musicality.

Feel the rhythm.

Picture what's happening.

Enter the experience.

On second reading, sense the sensory devices.

Notice anything unusual.

By the third reading, analyze individual elements.

Listen to the sounds echo across and between the lines.

Think about what first got your attention in the poem and why.

Ask other questions of the poem and your responses too.

For example:

Does the poem contain images? Do they work for you?

Do any of the key words come with connotations?

Do those implied meanings need to be read between the lines?

Do word associations or nuances muddle the meaning or add mystery?

Regardless of what you heard in school about reading poetry, no one knows exactly what a poet had in mind during the writing process or the revisions, but neither do poets know exactly what readers have in mind as they read.

As you read a poem, you bring your own set of experiences, values, and beliefs to that reading. So it’s possible that you and a particular poet just do not connect. No big deal! Just excuse yourself from that poet’s company. If, however, anything at all interests you, keep on reading. Maybe you’ll discover a new technique to try in your poems or a different thought to consider.

Also, be aware that reading poetry can be frustrating if you focus on figuring out what the poet is trying to say. It’s sort of like being in a foreign country where you need help but do not know enough words to ask. That situation differs greatly, though, from sitting in the comfort of your favorite chair with the TV on, listening to voices speaking lyrically in another language. Then, as in reading a difficult or complex poem out loud, you’re free to enjoy the tone, rhythm, and musicality of the sounds whether you understand what’s being said or not. If you find no pleasure in the process, however, go on to your next option and just stop reading.

© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler


  1. Glad you liked it. Let me know if there's a particular topic you'd like to see discussed in future postings. Thanks.

  2. I've had 2 poems published, and have always loved poetry. Poems are best left to be interpreted by the reader in order to pull the right emotion, so I love this advice. Keep up the outstanding work.

  3. Thanks. Hopefully, the reader will be somewhere near the same page as the poet too :)

  4. I think this is very good advice. What mostly keeps me from reading poetry, is the idea of having to think about every single sentence. Maybe with this advice I can look at it in a different way, thank you!

  5. Thanks for taking time to let me know the article helped! Also, look at poems online and especially in a poetry anthology to find poets whose work you like. If you want accessible, you'd probably like mine :)