Respect the Verse: How to get the most out of the poems you read

Respect the Verse: How to get the most out of the poems you read

Understanding poetry truly isn’t as hard as people make it out to be.  With a little coaching, some jargon, and some practice, it’s a pretty easy thing.

And to appreciate it doesn’t mean that you have to learn every little thing about poetry.  Trust me, there’s too much. And even poetry nerds like me don’t have it all down.

Listed below are the basics you need to get the most out of the verse you read.

  1.  Read with the punctuation marks.  Just because a line breaks doesn’t mean there’s a pause.  Pause where the commas and end marks are.  If there’s no punctuation, it may take a few times through the poem to figure out where to pause. Look at this piece of Shakespeare’s “My Mistress Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.”   Notice that it makes WAY more sense if you DON’T pause at the end of the line!punctuation3
  2. Get used to re-reading. To really get a poem, you have to read it a few times.  Even if it appears simple on the first pass, there will be lots more to it on the second and third time through.
  3. Pay attention to line breaks, capitalization, and structure.  Lines are broken where they are on purpose to add emphasis or to move your eyes down the page. Words that the poet capitalizes are words that are Important, especially if it’s something that’s not usually given a capital letter.
  4. How it sounds helps create a feeling.  Lots of soft letters in soft sounding words-
    littlemetalbottletops
    You have to hear him say “little metal bottletops.”  Click here.  I’m not sure why this is so funny, but it is.

    -m, n, s, r, l–will help create a soft feeling.  Hard letters–d, t, k, p–create harsher sounds.  Those sounds can mimic water or wind, or weapons and warfare depending on their usage. Those sounds create feelings, which in turn help you as the reader, develop meaning.

  5. Make a connection.  You should be able to find some sort of connection with every poem you read.  Does it remind you of your Great Aunt Tilly?  Your favorite superhero? Make you question something you heard at church? Make you feel sad or angry or nostalgic?  Those connections are the whole purpose of literature; poets write to express thoughts and feelings, and we read to better understand our own.

Got anything to add? Let me know about it in the comments? Like what you read?  Share this somewhere!  Happy National Poetry Month!

 

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Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry

 

Part of the frustration of any literature teacher is the groaning chorus of poetry haters who are not excited about the poetry unit. To help this, I try to introduce poetry via song lyrics and fun poems.  One of my favorite fun poems is Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” which presents the problems of teacher expectations running into students.

It is perfect for teaching assonance, metaphor, and free form structure.  And it nails #thestruggleisreal feeling teachers get when trying to get students to read beyond the surface of a poem.

I’m in the process of creating a worksheet for this poem geared toward high school students.  I’ll email the first five requests in the comments a free PDF copy of it when it’s done!  Everyone else will be able to buy it from my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it’s done.

Enjoy!

Introduction to Poetry

BY BILLY COLLINS

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.