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Thursday, April 8, 2010

How To Read A Poem

Laze back and enjoy the first reading, preferably out loud. Listen to the musicality. Feel the rhythm. Relax into the experience without trying to analyze anything.

As you read the poem a second time, notice the sound echoes and images. Especially notice any poetic devices that make the poem unique. Now analyze. Ask, for instance, what grabbed your interest and why.

If the poem includes heightened vocabulary or literary references with which you’re not familiar, look up each one in a dictionary or on the Internet. Why do you think the poet thought that particular word or reference needed to be part of the poem?

Ask other questions of the poem too. For instance, why does an image work or not? Can you see any pattern of thought or form? In what way does a device add to or subtract from the poem’s meaning or impact?

Does the poem make more sense to you than it did on first reading? If not, keep reading aloud, noticing each word, phrase, comparison, or sound that gets your attention.

Consider, too, the connotations for each unusual word. Do the implied meanings add meaning to the poem? If so, how? For instance, a word that suggests more than one meaning might add a sense of mystery or just confusion. Whatever the effect, is it effective?

As the poem reveals itself to you, you begin to own the experience. As you notice and consider each poetic aspect, those techniques become available to you too. You now own the poetic choices that went into the making of this poem – choices that you, too, have the option to utilize as you revise your own poetry for someone else to read, analyze, and enjoy.

Mary Harwell Sayler (c) 2010


  1. Thanks. The more poets know about reading the poems of other people, the more they know how to edit or revise their own poetry.

  2. Thank you for this Mary very helpful I have shared/saved it for myself as well.

  3. Great advice and insight Mary. Thanks!