Beyond the Words: How to Read Poetry More Effectively

Read poetry beyond the words.

Photo by PNW Production

Poetry is often described as language condensed to create the most evocative of imagery. Through this meticulous and keen attention to wordcraft, poems become infused with emotions, ideas, and beauty. 

Perhaps this is why, for some, reading poetry remains a very intimidating obstacle. 

How to Read Poetry More Effectively 

Before diving in on a poem, take a moment to regard the poem’s physical form. Does it have a title? How is the poem laid out? How many stanzas are there? 

  • Titles often offer clues about the poem’s theme, while the arrangement of lines can hint at rhythm or structure.

Now, delve into the poem itself. Read it once at a natural pace and examine the words carefully, individually, and in the order of their arrangement. 

  • Don’t worry about deciphering every detail just yet. This initial reading is about forming a general impression, a sense of the poem’s atmosphere and overall message.

The second reading is where the more in-depth investigation begins. Read slowly, taking in each word. Pay attention to unfamiliar vocabulary (having a dictionary at hand will be helpful). Look for figurative language, such as similes, metaphors, and personification. These tools create vivid imagery and convey deeper meaning beyond the literal sense.

Notice how the poem sounds. Does it have a specific rhyme scheme, or is it free verse? Are there repeated sounds (consonance) or contrasting vowel sounds (assonance)? Depending on the poem’s intent, these elements create a rhythm and melody that can be soothing, exciting, or unsettling. 

  • Try reading the poem aloud. Hearing the words can unveil hidden nuances and amplify the emotional impact.

Many poems adhere to a specific structure, like a sonnet or haiku. Understanding the form of a poem can offer insights into the poem’s purpose and meaning. 

  • For example, a sonnet, with its intricate rhyme scheme and volta (a shift in meaning), is often used to explore more intricate ideas.

Beyond the Words 

Poetry rarely offers a single, definitive meaning. That’s one aspect to the beauty of poetry. Different readers bring their experiences and perspectives to the table, leading to diverse interpretations. This is part of the magic of poetry. It invites active engagement and personal discovery. Don’t shy away from forming your interpretation, even if it differs from others.

A good thing to do when reading poetry is to annotate the piece! Write down your questions, reactions, and connections you make to the text. Think beyond the words.

  • This creates a dialogue with the poem and helps you remember your discoveries upon revisiting it later.

You should only expect to grasp some poems on the first attempt, not all of them. Poetry rewards multiple readings. Each time you revisit a poem, you might uncover new layers of meaning or appreciate the beauty of the language afresh.

Expose yourself to a variety of poets and styles. Don’t just stick to what is trending or in style. From the classics to the free verse of modern poetry, delve into different approaches to language and expression. 

  • The more diverse your reading experience, the richer your understanding of poetry will become.

Poetry is a conversation waiting to happen. Respond to a poem creatively. Write a response poem inspired by it, create a piece of art, or discuss it with others. 

  • Sharing your interpretations and sparking discussions deepens your connection to the poem and enriches the overall experience.

Other Considerations

Remember: There’s no right or wrong way to read poetry. The important thing is to be open to the experience and allow the poem to speak to you emotionally and intellectually. 

With some practice and the right tools, you’ll unlock the hidden treasures within poems and discover a world of beauty and meaning waiting to be explored.

For a more engaged experience, try to listen to poetry readings! Many poets record themselves reading their work. This allows you to hear the poem in the poet’s voice.

If you can, attend poetry slams! These competitive events heavily showcase spoken word poetry, which adds an element of performance and audience interaction.

Embark on your poetic journey with an open mind and a curious spirit. If you’re looking for a good selection to start interpreting, Brion K. Hanks’ Tales of a Traveler in Poetry and Prose, a collection of poetry that heals the soul, is a good way to