Poetry has a bit of an image problem. To some, it seems pretentious, cryptic, and even a little intimidating. Maybe that’s due to inadequate high school literary education or a too-limited reading list that doesn’t reflect modern life in a way that’s relatable to many readers. Thankfully, that stuffy image is changing, and a new generation is waking up to the power of poetry. Check out our quick tips below to help you start reading poems with ease.
Just Read the Poem
Seriously! Poems are meant to be enjoyed, so don’t overthink it. We could go on and on about the function of line breaks, stanzas, and meter – and we will – but forget all that when you first read a poem. Just read it and feel it for yourself.
Read It Aloud
Poetry, more than any other literary form, is intended to be heard. Poetry is all about the love of words, sounds, and rhythm. Poets play with surprising images and subvert the ear’s expectations to magnify a particular moment or feeling. Take pleasure in the texture of sounds and in the astounding scenes and visuals conjured in your mind.
After you’ve read the poem a couple of times, you can read it more closely to see what techniques the poet used to make their magic. You might notice that every line in the poem has a certain number of syllables. Maybe every other line rhymes. There might be a refrain – a line that gets repeated throughout the poem. Or maybe, not at all.
There are many different types of poetic forms that can sometimes clue you in on what the poem is about, or how the poet is playing with expectations. For example, sonnets have 14 lines with a set rhyme scheme and are usually about love. Shakespeare himself liked to surprise his readers, using the sonnet form to write humorous poems about his beloved.
Line - A line is just that! A single line of poetry on the page.
Line Break - A line break, then, is simply where the line ends and a new line begins. Conventionally, a line break will occur with the end of a phrase. However, a poet may intentionally break a line in the middle of a phrase to surprise the reader and add another layer of meaning to the poem. This technique is called enjambment.
Stanza - When you put lines together, they form a stanza. You can think of stanzas as paragraphs in a book or verses in a song. They are the primary building blocks of a poem. Some poems, such as haiku, contain a single stanza.
Meter - Count the number of syllables in a single line and you’ll already have a basic grasp of what meter is all about! It gets a little more complicated from there, but just know that certain poetic forms impose length and syllable stress.
Alliteration - You’ll know it when you hear it. Think Daffy Duck or Lois Lane. Alliteration is a common poetic device that draws in your attention, and creates flow and harmony.