Do any of you guys have tips or tricks to reading poetry? I know it’s a bit late to be asking, but I have been trying to understand it on my own and can’t seem to get the hang of it. I’ve never been able to see the point of the blue curtains in poetry (look up English teachers and blue curtains) and it really frustrates me. So, do any of you guys have any tips on how you read poetry and get the deeper meanings/what the author was trying to say?

8 Replies to “Suggestions?”

  1. I feel you on this one! I always start with reading the poem aloud to myself. And in a course like this one, the best thing to do is to blog about the poem because multiple heads are greater than one. I always find that someone in a class always finds some interpretation that clears things up for me. But reading a poem aloud , multiple times, and taking a break and coming back to it later are my go to strategies.

  2. I often find that looking up exact definitions of vague words or possible references to certain topics mentioned is very helpful for me. It might open up a world of possibility to the meaning of the poem. Or, it could make a meaning seem more clear. Also, here is a link to the Emily Dickinson Museum for tips on reading Dickinson. It might help you with other poets as well!

  3. Samantha, I would have to agree with both Sarah and Christine, the absolute best way to read poetry (and unfortunately I learned this the hard way from the British Romantic Literature Class with Dr. Lorentzen) that reading, and then re-reading, and then re-reading the poem again, making comments in the margins next to the poem were appropriate (although it’s extremely hard to write in the margins, seeing as how all of our texts are online, but you can print out these texts and then write in the margins) in order to help yourself come to a conclusion as to what is going on in the poem, what the author’s intended didactic message is, and what is the speaker attempting to convey (tone, language, rhyme scheme, lineation, etc.) Also I strongly agree with Sarah that blogging about the poem is effective as well because like the saying goes, two heads (or multiple) are better than one alone.

  4. I’m going to kind of echo what everyone else has already said here… I cannot understand poetry unless I annotate it and look up the stuff that I don’t understand, whether it be specific words or weird allusions to people/things I’m unfamiliar with! It’s helpful to highlight or underline things that might indicate the tone or overall message, too. Reading out loud is a huge help, but I believe that to be true of all writing!

    As far as the “blue curtains,” I will tell you something speaking as a future teacher who has had to convince middle and high schoolers to analyze poetry and literature:

    It’s all subjective.


    Yes, the historical and sociological implications are important. Yeah, knowing a little bit about the writer you’re reading about will give you some pretty damn good insight as to why they may have written something a certain way. But really, you should break something down to the best of your ability and try to figure out what it means to you! If you think that Harry Potter is just about a wizard who makes friends and fights a bad guy with his magic, and I think that the series is supposed to be a reflection of Nazi Germany, who’s REALLY right? Both of us, yeah? Because we’re interpreting a piece based upon our own feelings and perceptions, as well as our own individual research.

    Anyway. Again, I’m not a huge poetry person, but that’s my take on it.

  5. I always read the poem in it’s entirety first before taking a break away from the computer. After the break I reread the poem, look up info on the reason it was written and what it was about before commenting on it. If I do not have enough time,then I write down my initial thoughts on the poem.

  6. My process for reading poetry feels really long when I explain it, but in the moment it does not seem like all that much. I had posted this as a comment in one of the voice threads for my group and sharing here to help you out.

    First I read the poem to myself in my head. This gives me a little run through of what I am looking at. If I am looking at it in hard copy and not electric, I will underline or mark places that I understand and put a “?” where I get lost or confused. Then I read it again, but out loud. After that, I try to find a recording of someone reading it (youtube and sometimes really helps) and follow along while listening to the audio. Again, marking any places where I am still confused or marking places that I now understand. The last step that I do, is I close my eyes and relax and listen to the audio again. This helps me pick up on the flow, the rhyme, the meter, and also allows me to focus in on certain sounds (maybe the s/c sound is really stressed in the piece or there are a lot of harsh sounds, that kind of stuff).

    Whenever you find a word that you don’t know, look it up. Read all the definitions. In one of Whitman’s pieces, there was the use of the word “Nimbus” and I only knew of nimbus clouds and had no clue how that was related to the piece, but looking it up helped bring to my attention that nimbus was like an angelic cloud or mist.

    Remember, it is perfectly fine not to get it. It is fine to be lost and confused at points. There are times where after trying so hard to understand what a poem means, I still find myself lost. When you become lost write down questions. In class ask. If you are reading for fun and not for a course, look up what the meaning is. Find an academic break down of the poem. Also remember that there are so many ways to interpret poetry, the meaning you find in it might be different than mine, or the next person’s. That is okay too. As long as you can back up and explain why you think that way, having an opposing interpretation or one that is different is okay.

  7. This is exactly what went through my head during the first week of this class. I am not a huge poetry reader so I was struggling, too. The readings started to really click once I started reading them out loud. And then, to see this emphasized through voice thread was reassuring. So reading poetry out loud is the way that worked for me! Good luck!

  8. I feel you on this as well! For this class, I first look up definitions of vague words and then look for others’ thoughts on the blog or on the VoiceThreat. Also, looking up the poet’s biography can help a lot! For example, we would not have been able to understand Dickinson’s poems well without knowledge of her biography, especially of her mental illness.

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