How to Read a Poem

Use the guidelines below to learn how to read a poem and understand it.

Read with a pencil

Read a poem with a pencil in your hand.

Mark it up; write in the margins; react to it; get involved with it. Circle important, or striking, or repeated words. Draw lines to connect related ideas. Mark difficult or confusing words, lines, and passages.

Read through the poem several times, both silently and aloud, listening carefully to the sound and rhythm of the words.

Examine the basic subject of the poem

  • Consider the title of the poem carefully. What does it tell you about the poem’s subject, tone, and genre? What does it promise? (After having read the poem, you will want to come back to the title in order to consider further its relationship with the poem.)
  • What is your initial impression of the poem’s subject ? Try writing out an answer to the question, “What is this poem about?”–and then return to this question throughout your analysis. Push yourself to be precise; aim for more than just a vague impression of the poem. What is the author’s attitude toward his or her subject?
  • What is the poem’s basic situation ? What is going on in it? Who is talking? To whom? Under what circumstances? Where? About what? Why? Is a story being told? Is something–tangible or intangible–being described? What specifically can you point to in the poem to support your answers?
  • Because a poem is highly compressed, it may help you to try to unfold it by paraphrasing the poem aloud , moving line by line through it. If the poem is written in sentences, can you figure out what the subject of each one is? The verb? The object of the verb? What a modifier refers to? Try to untie any syntactic knots.
  • Is the poem built on a comparison or analogy ? If so, how is the comparison appropriate? How are the two things alike? How different?
  • What is the author’s attitude toward his subject? Serious? Reverent? Ironic? Satiric? Ambivalent? Hostile? Humorous? Detached? Witty?
  • Does the poem appeal to a reader’s intellect? Emotions? Reason?

Consider the context of the poem

  • Are there any allusions to other literary or historical figures or events? How do these add to the poem? How are they appropriate?
  • What do you know about this poet ? About the age in which he or she wrote this poem? About other works by the same author?

Study the form of the poem

  • Consider the sound and rhythm of the poem. Is there a metrical pattern? If so, how regular is it? Does the poet use rhyme? What do the meter and rhyme emphasize? Is there any alliteration? Assonance? Onomatopoeia? How do these relate to the poem’s meaning? What effect do they create in the poem?
  • Are there divisions within the poem? Marked by stanzas? By rhyme? By shifts in subject? By shifts in perspective? How do these parts relate to each other? How are they appropriate for this poem?
  • How are the ideas in the poem ordered ? Is there a progression of some sort? From simple to complex? From outer to inner? From past to present? From one place to another? Is there a climax of any sort?
  • What are the form and genre of this poem? What should you expect from such a poem? How does the poet use the form?

Look at the word choice of the poem

  • One way to see the action in a poem is to list all its verbs . What do they tell you about the poem?
  • Are there difficult or confusing words? Even if you are only the slightest bit unsure about the meaning of a word, look it up in a good dictionary. If you are reading poetry written before the twentieth century, learn to use the Oxford English Dictionary, which can tell you how a word’s definition and usage have changed over time. Be sure that you determine how a word is being used–as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb–so that you can find its appropriate meaning. Be sure also to consider various possible meanings of a word and be alert to subtle differences between words. A good poet uses language very carefully; as a good reader you in turn must be equally sensitive to the implications of word choice.
  • What mood is evoked in the poem? How is this accomplished? Consider the ways in which not only the meanings of words but also their sound and the poem’s rhythms help to create its mood.
  • Is the language in the poem abstract or concrete ? How is this appropriate to the poem’s subject?
  • Are there any consistent patterns of words? For example, are there several references to flowers, or water, or politics, or religion in the poem? Look for groups of similar words.
  • Does the poet use figurative language ? Are there metaphors in the poem? Similes? Is there any personification? Consider the appropriateness of such comparisons. Try to see why the poet chose a particular metaphor as opposed to other possible ones. Is there a pattern of any sort to the metaphors? Is there any metonymy in the poem? Synechdoche? Hyperbole? Oxymoron? Paradox? A dictionary of literary terms may be helpful here.

Finishing Up

  • Ask, finally, about the poem, “So what?” What does it do? What does it say? What is its purpose?

For further information you may wish to take the Writing Center workshop entitled Intro to Literary Analysis.

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Reading poetry well is part attitude and part technique. Curiosity is a useful attitude, especially when it’s free of preconceived ideas about what poetry is or should be. Effective technique directs your curiosity into asking questions, drawing you into a conversation with the poem.

The goal of careful reading is often to take up a question of meaning, an interpretive question that has more than one answer. Since the form of a poem is part of its meaning (for example, features such as repetition and rhyme may amplify or extend the meaning of a word or idea, adding emphasis, texture, or dimension), questions about form and technique, about the observable features of a poem, provide an effective point of entry for interpretation. To ask some of these questions, you’ll need to develop a good ear for the musical qualities of language, particularly how sound and rhythm relate to meaning. This approach is one of many ways into a poem.

Getting Started: Prior Assumptions

Most readers make three false assumptions when addressing an unfamiliar poem. The first is assuming that they should understand what they encounter on the first reading, and if they don’t, that something is wrong with them or with the poem. The second is assuming that the poem is a kind of code, that each detail corresponds to one, and only one, thing, and unless they can crack this code, they’ve missed the point. The third is assuming that the poem can mean anything readers want it to mean.

William Carlos Williams wrote a verse addressed to his wife in the poem "January Morning,":

     All this—                            was for you, old woman.      I wanted to write a poem      that you would understand.      For what good is it to me      if you can't understand it?                            but you got to try hard—

Williams admits in these lines that poetry is often difficult. He also suggests that a poet depends on the effort of a reader; somehow, a reader must "complete" what the poet has begun.

This act of completion begins when you enter the imaginative play of a poem, bringing to it your experience and point of view. If a poem is "play" in the sense of a game or a sport, then you enjoy that it makes you work a little, that it makes you sweat a bit. Reading poetry is a challenge, but like so many other things, it takes practice, and your skills and insight improve as you progress.

Literature is, and has always been, the sharing of experience, the pooling of human understanding about living, loving, and dying. Successful poems welcome you in, revealing ideas that may not have been foremost in the writer’s mind in the moment of composition. The best poetry has a magical quality—a sense of being more than the sum of its parts—and even when it’s impossible to articulate this sense, this something more, the power of the poem is left undiminished.

Poems speak to us in many ways. Though their forms may not always be direct or narrative, keep in mind that a real person formed the moment of the poem, and it’s wise to seek an understanding of that moment. Sometimes the job of the poem is to come closer to saying what cannot be said in other forms of writing, to suggest an experience, idea, or feeling that you can know but not entirely express in any direct or literal way. The techniques of word and line arrangement, sound and rhythm, add to—and in some cases, multiply—the meaning of words to go beyond the literal, giving you an impression of an idea or feeling, an experience that you can’t quite put into words but that you know is real.

Reading a Poem Aloud

Before you get very far with a poem, you have to read it. In fact, you can learn quite a few things just by looking at it. The title may give you some image or association to start with. Looking at the poem’s shape, you can see whether the lines are continuous or broken into groups (called stanzas ), or how long the lines are, and so how dense, on a physical level, the poem is. You can also see whether it looks like the last poem you read by the same poet or even a poem by another poet. All of these are good qualities to notice, and they may lead you to a better understanding of the poem in the end.

But sooner or later, you’re going to have to read the poem, word by word. To begin, read the poem aloud. Read it more than once. Listen to your voice, to the sounds the words make. Do you notice any special effects? Do any of the words rhyme? Is there a cluster of sounds that seem the same or similar? Is there a section of the poem that seems to have a rhythm that’s distinct from the rest of the poem? Don’t worry about why the poem might use these effects. The first step is to hear what’s going on. If you find your own voice distracting, have a friend read the poem to you.

That said, it can still be uncomfortable to read aloud or to make more than one pass through a poem. Some of this attitude comes from the misconception that we should understand a poem after we first read it, while some stems from sheer embarrassment. Where could I possibly go to read aloud? What if my friends hear me?

What determines where a line stops in poetry? There is, of course, more than one answer to this question. Lines are often determined by meaning, sound and rhythm, breath, or typography. Poets may use several of these elements at the same time. Some poems are metrical in a strict sense. But what if the lines aren’t metrical? What if the lines are irregular?

The relationship between meaning, sound, and movement intended by the poet is sometimes hard to recognize, but there is an interplay between the grammar of a line, the breath of a line, and the way lines are broken out in the poem—this is called lineation . For example, lines that end with punctuation, called end-stopped lines , are fairly simple. In that case, the punctuation and the lineation, and perhaps even breathing, coincide to make the reading familiar and even predictable. But lines that are not end-stopped present different challenges for readers because they either end with an incomplete phrase or sentence or they break before the first punctuation mark is reached. The most natural approach is to pay strict attention to the grammar and punctuation. Reading to the end of a phrase or sentence, even if it carries over one or several lines, is the best way to retain the grammatical sense of a poem.

But lineation introduces another variable that some poets use to their advantage. Robert Creeley is perhaps best known for breaking lines across expected grammatical pauses. This technique often introduces secondary meaning, sometimes in ironic contrast with the actual meaning of the complete grammatical phrase. Consider these lines from Creeley’s poem "The Language":

     Locate I      love you some-      where in

     teeth and      eyes, bite      it but

Reading the lines as written, as opposed to their grammatical relationship, yields some strange meanings. "Locate I " seems to indicate a search for identity, and indeed it may, but the next line, which continues with "love you some-," seems to make a diminishing statement about a relationship. On its own, "eyes bite" is very disturbing.

Hearing Creeley read his poems can often be disquieting, because he pauses at the end of each line, and these pauses create a kind of tension or counterpoint in relation to the poem’s sentence structure. His halting, hesitant, breathless style is immediately recognizable, and it presents writers with new ideas about meaning, purely through lineation. But many poets who break lines disregarding grammatical units do so only for visual irony, something that may be lost in performance. Among metrical, free verse, and even experimental poets of today, there are those who do not interrupt grammatical sense when reading a poem aloud as much as they interrupt it in the poem’s typography. What to do as a reader? Try a variety of methods. It’s fun to "Creeleyize" any poem, just to hear what the lineation is doing. But if the results seem to detract from the poem’s impact, in terms of its imagery or concept, drop the literal treatment of line breaks and read for grammar or visual image. Reading a poem several ways allows you to see further into the poem simply through repetition.

With poets who use techniques drawn from music—particularly jazz, such as Michael S. Harper or Yusef Komunyakaa —or poets like Walt Whitman who employ unusually long lines, there may be another guiding principle: breath. Some poets think of their words as music flowing from a horn; they think of phrases the way a saxophonist might. Poems composed in this way have varied line lengths but they have a musicality in their lineation and a naturalness to their performance. They may have a recognizable sense of measure, an equivalent duration between lines, or, for the sake of contrast, one rhythmic pattern or duration that gives way to successive variations.

For some poems, visual impact may also be important. In "shaped poetry," as well as many other types of writing that are meant to be seen as a painting might be seen, the line is determined by its placement in space. Some visually oriented poets present real challenges in that the course of the poem may not be entirely clear. Visual choices presented by the poet may be confusing. Sometimes the arrangements of words on a page are intended to represent different voices in a dialogue, or even a more complex discourse on a subject. Overlapping and layering might be the poet’s intent, which no single voice can achieve. It’s best to be aware that poems with multiple voices, or focuses exist and, again, looking for the inherent rules that determine the shape of the poem is the best approach.

Remember that the use of these techniques, in any combination, pushes the words of the poem beyond their literal meanings. If you find more in a poem than the words alone convey, then something larger is at work, making the poem more than the sum of its parts.

Starting the Conversation

We mentioned earlier that encountering a difficult poem is like a game or sport, say rock climbing, that makes you work a bit. The idea of finding handholds and footholds and ascending one bit at a time is apt. But some climbs are easier than others; some are very easy. You may enjoy an easy climb for a while, but you may also find that you want a bigger challenge. Reading poetry works the same way, and, fortunately, poets leave trails to help you look for the way "up" a poem. You’ll have to do some work, hard work in some cases, but most of the time, the trails are there for you to discover.

The best way to discover and learn about a poem is through shared inquiry discussion. Although your first experience of the poem may be private and personal, talking about the poem is a natural and important next step. Beginning with a focus question about the poem, the discussion addresses various possible answers to the question, reshaping and clarifying it along the way. The discussion should remain grounded in the text as much as possible. Responses that move away from what is written into personal anecdotes or tangential leaps should be gently urged back into analyzing the text. The basis for shared inquiry is close reading. Good readers "dirty the text" with notes in the margins. They make the inquiry their own.

Talking Back to a Poem

It would be convenient if there were a short list of universal questions, ones that could be used anytime with any poem. In the absence of such a list, here are a few general questions that you might ask when approaching a poem for the first time:

  • Who is the speaker?
  • What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
  • What situation is presented?
  • Who or what is the audience?
  • What is the tone?
  • What form, if any, does the poem take?
  • How is form related to content?
  • Is sound an important, active element of the poem?
  • Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?
  • Does the poem speak from a specific culture?
  • Does the poem have its own vernacular?
  • Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
  • What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
  • If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
  • If the poem is an answer, what is the question?
  • What does the title suggest?
  • Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?

You can fall back on these questions as needed, but experience suggests that since each poem is unique, such questions will not go the necessary distance. In many instances, knowing who the speaker is may not yield any useful information. There may be no identifiable occasion that inspired the poem. But poems do offer clues about where to start. Asking questions about the observable features of a poem will help you find a way in.

We’ll now bring inquiry to bear on two very different poems, each of which presents its own challenges:

  • "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams
  • "Diving into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich

Text and Context

Some people say that a poem is always an independent work of art and that readers can make full sense of it without having to use any source outside the poem itself. Others say that no text exists in a vacuum. However, the truth lies somewhere in between. Most poems are open to interpretation without the aid of historical context or knowledge about the author’s life. In fact, it’s often best to approach a poem without the kind of preconceived ideas that can accompany this kind of information. Other poems, however, overtly political poems in particular, will benefit from some knowledge of the poet’s life and times. The amount of information needed to clearly understand depends on you and your encounter with the poem. It’s possible, of course, even for someone with a deep background in poetry to be unaware of certain associations or implications in a poem. This is because poems are made of words that accumulate new meanings over time.

Consider this situation, a true story, of a poet who found a "text" at the San Mateo coast in northern California. As she scrambled over rocks behind the beach, near the artichoke fields that separate the shore from the coast highway, she found a large smear of graffiti painted on the rocks, proclaiming " La Raza ," a Chicano political slogan meaning "the struggle." She sat down and wrote a poem. Why? her poem asked. I understand, she wrote, why someone would write La Raza on the side of a building, or on public transport. There it would be seen and would shout its protest from the very foundations of the oppressive system. But why here, in nature, in beauty, so far from that political arena. Couldn’t you leave the coast unspoiled? Then, one evening while reading the poem in Berkeley she got her answer. A man came up to her and asked her, "Do you want to know?" "I beg your pardon," she said. "Those fields," the man went on, "were where Chicanos had been virtually enslaved, beaten, and forced to live in squalor for decades." The landscape was not innocent of political struggle. The text was not out of place.

Embrace Ambiguity

Here’s a tricky issue: the task is to grasp, to connect, to understand. But such a task is to some degree impossible, and most people want clarity. At the end of class, at the end of the day, we want revelation, a glimpse of the skyline through the lifting fog. Aesthetically, this is understandable. Some magic, some satisfaction, some "Ahhh!" is one of the rewards of any reading, and particularly the reading of poetry. But a poem that reveals itself completely in one or two readings will, over time, seem less of a poem than one that constantly reveals subtle recesses and previously unrecognized meanings.

Here’s a useful analogy. A life partner, a husband, a wife—these are people with whom we hope to constantly renew our love. Despite the routine, the drone of familiarity, the daily preparation of meals and doing of dishes, the conversations we’ve had before, we hope to find a sense of discovery, of surprise. The same is true of poems. The most magical and wonderful poems are ever renewing themselves, which is to say they remain ever mysterious.

Too often we resist ambiguity. Perhaps our lives are changing so fast that we long for stability somewhere, and because most of the reading we do is for instruction or information, we prefer it without shades of gray. We want it to be predictable and easy to digest. And so difficult poetry is the ultimate torment.

Some literary critics would link this as well to the power of seeing, to the relationship between subject and object. We wish the poem to be object so we can possess it through our "seeing" its internal workings. When it won’t allow us to "objectify" it, we feel powerless.

Torment, powerlessness—these are the desired ends? Well, no. The issue is our reaction, how we shape our thoughts through words. We have to give up our material attitude, which makes us want to possess the poem. Maybe we’ve bought the book but we don’t own the poem. We have to cultivate a new mindset, a new practice of enjoying the inconclusive.

Embracing ambiguity is a much harder task for some than for others. Nothing scares some people like the idea (even the idea ) of improvisation as a writing or analytical tool. Some actors hate being without a script; the same is true of some musicians. Ask even some excellent players to improvise and they start to sweat. Of course, actors and musicians will say that there is mystery in what they do with a script or a score, and it would be pointless to disagree. The point, after all, is that text is mysterious. Playing the same character night after night, an actor discovers something in the lines, some empathy for the character, that he or she had never felt before. Playing or listening to a song for the hundredth time—if it is a great song—will yield new interpretation and discovery. So it is with great poetry.

Published in partnership with the Great Books Foundation.

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Poetry: Close Reading

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This resource will help you perform a close reading of poetry and begin developing ideas for writing papers based on close readings.

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Once somewhat ignored in scholarly circles, close reading of poetry is making something of a comeback. By learning how to close read a poem you can significantly increase both your understanding and enjoyment of the poem. You may also increase your ability to write convincingly about the poem.

The following exercise uses one of William Shakespeare’s sonnets (#116) as an example. This close read process can also be used on many different verse forms. This resource first presents the entire sonnet and then presents a close reading of the poem below. Read the sonnet a few times to get a feel for it and then move down to the close reading.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Performing the close read

The number indicates the sonnet’s place in a cycle or sequence of sonnets. Although you may examine the poem on its own terms, realize that it is connected to the other poems in the cycle.

Admit impediments.

Form is one of the first things you should note about a poem. Here it is easy to see that the poem is fourteen lines long and follows some sort of rhyme scheme (which you can see by looking at how the final words in each line). The rhyme of words makes a connection between them. Our first rhyme combination is “minds/finds.” What do you make of this pairing of words?

The first phrase (in this case a full sentence) of the poem flows into the next line of the poem. This is called enjambment, and though it is often made necessary by the form of the verse, it also serves to break up the reader’s expectations. In this case, the word “impediments” is placed directly before the bleak and confusing phrase “love is not love,” itself an enjambment. How does this disconnection between phrase and line affect the reader? How does it emphasize or change the lines around it?

Love is not love

O r bends with the remover to remove:

Notice all of the repetition or use of similar words in the last two and a half lines. When close reading a poem, especially a fixed verse form like the sonnet, remember the economy of the poem: there’s only so much space at the poet’s disposal. This makes repetition very important, because it places even more emphasis on the repeated word than does prose. What does the repetition in these lines suggest? Also, note that we’ve come to the end of our first quatrain (four-line stanza): usually the first stanza of a sonnet proposes the problem for the poem. What is this problem?

Our next quatrain gives a pair of metaphors ( click here to read about metaphors, or click here ) for the “thesis” argued in the first stanza. Look carefully at these images as they relate to the subject of the poem. What actual objects do they describe? Do they bear any similarity to each other? Is there a connection between the use of “ever-“ in line 5 and “every” in line seven?

The image in lines 5-6 is especially complex: What is the “mark” Shakespeare is talking about and how does it “look?” Answers to some of these questions may require some research into older definitions of words in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Our third and final quatrain uses all of its four lines to expand a single metaphor. Consider how this metaphor relates to the previous ones, and why so much space in the poem is devoted to it, especially as it relates to the poem’s argument. Also, look at similarity of phrasing between line 9’s “rosy lips and cheeks” and line 11’s “brief hours and weeks.” They certainly rhyme, but how does the similar construction affect the reading?

This is our closing couplet (two-line stanza), meant to “resolve” the problem addressed in the poem. Look carefully at the way the couplet starts. Does it provide resolution or not? Note that the first person (“me/I”) has returned (last seen in the first line of the poem). Consider also the negations in the final statement. Have we seen something similar in the poem before? Where and why are the connections made?

From reading to writing

The observations and questions in the close reading notes are by no means complete, but a look over them suggests several possibilities for a paper. Among these possibilities are:

  • The repetition of similar words and phrases in the poem
  • The use and relationship of the three main metaphors in the poem
  • The ambiguity, which begins (“let” suggests that something may or may not be allowed to happen) and ends (the weighty word “if”) the poem
  • The connection between the physical and the spiritual.

These ideas need not be exclusive, either. The observations gained from the close reading should provide you with examples and insight for anyone of the proposed essays listed above.

poem reading essay

How to Write a Poem Analysis: 6 Steps for Students and New Reviewers

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Elliot Riley

Emily Butler is a librarian and writer. You can discover more of their literary opinions on their YouTube channel,, and follow them on Twitter @EmilyFButler1.

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If you’re a student or new reviewer first approaching the task, you may be wondering how to write a poem analysis. Fortunately, there are concrete steps you can take to analyze a poem or collection of poetry. Even if you do not plan on learning how to write a poem analysis essay, building a routine of analysis into your poetry reading can deepen your appreciation for the genre.

Poems have many layers of meaning. A particularly beautiful and well-crafted poem only becomes more enjoyable the more you increase your understanding of the decisions the poet made to craft it. The following steps outline the kinds of questions to ask yourself while writing a poem analysis.

Step 1: Read the Poem Aloud

Poetry has a long oral history. Poets often utilize sound techniques which are easier to detect when reading the poem aloud. Read it once without an analytical focus. Simply notice how you respond to the poem. Begin by asking yourself broad, simple questions such as: How did this make me feel? What do I think the poet is trying to say?

Jot some notes down about your initial impression. Analyzing a poem is a recursive process. You will read the poem several times, and these first impressions can provide interesting clues for what to focus on in your analysis.

Step 2: Identify the Type of Poem

There are several different types of poems, but all poems fall into three overarching categories: free verse, formal verse, and prose poems. Formal poetry itself comes in many more specific forms. Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Different Types of Poems.

There are certain analytical questions you can ask yourself depending on the type of the poem you’re reading. If this is a prose poem, ask yourself, what exactly makes this piece of writing a poem, as opposed to a short piece of prose? Recognizing a specific poetic form allows you to contextualize the poem in history. For example, if you’re reading a sonnet, consider how the poem you’re analyzing fits with or fights against the conventions of sonnets.

Step 3: Mark It Up

There is no one correct way to mark up a poem. You can underline lines which stand out to you. You can take notes in the margins identifying poetic techniques as you see them. You can scan the poem,  a method of marking stressed and unstressed syllables. You can circle words which seem important or stand out as surprising.

If you are reviewing an entire poetry collection, it’s a good idea to take notes in the margins about particular motifs or themes. That way, when you are finished with your first read, you can look for ideas which appeared in multiple poems.

Step 4: Consider Poetic Techniques

Read the poem several times, considering a single poetic technique at a time. For example, free verse and formal poems use line breaks. Read through the poem once, focusing on how the poet has broken lines, and the impact of those decisions. If the poem contains stanzas, do the same for stanzas. You can repeat this process with any poetic technique: similes, metaphors, imagery, assonance, consonance, alliteration. How do these poetic techniques support, enhance, or problematize the overall message of the poem? Your observations will prove crucial when you are ready to sit down and write a poem analysis.

Step 5: Pay Attention to the Turn(s)

In poetry, the term “volta,” sometimes called a “turn,” is a shift in the tone, meaning, or style of a poem. This is a common enough poetic technique that it warrants its own step in the analytic process. Nearly every sonnet contains a turn in the final two lines of the poem, but countless other types of poems contain some sort of shift.

Voltas are so common that if the poem you’re reading does not contain a volta, that is a decision worth incorporating into a poem analysis. You can always ask yourself whether or not a poem contains a turn, and how this impacts the poem overall. Focus on the final lines of a poem, since that is where the volta typically appears.

Step 6: Make an Argument

If you are reviewing an entire poetry collection you can use the above steps for each poem. Then consider the way that the poet has chosen to order the poems within the collection. Revisit the first and last poems, asking yourself how they might function as a kind of introduction and conclusion to the collection.

As with any other essay in the realm of literature, in order to write a poem analysis essay, you should formulate an argument and back it up with evidence. Different readers can have opposing ideas about how a poem or collection of poetry operates, and that’s okay, as long as both readers have evidence to support their claims. How do you back up your claims with evidence? Refer to your notes, especially your observations of poetic techniques. Whenever necessary, quote exact lines or stanzas and use them to support your argument.

Step 7: Consider the Audience

Writing a book review of a poetry collection is considerably different from writing an essay about it. That is because book reviews serve a different purpose than essays do. Individual readers, book buyers, and librarians read reviews in order to decide whether or not to purchase a book.

Ask yourself: what kind of reader might enjoy this collection? It’s always a good idea to compare and contrast to other collections of poetry. You can recommend the poetry collection you’re reviewing to fans of another poet, for example.

Book reviews tend to be considerably shorter than essays, often as short as two or three hundred words. For that reason, it’s important to be concise. Unlike reviewing fiction or nonfiction, you do not exactly need to “summarize” a poetry collection. Most poetry collections cannot be summarized the way that a novel or nonfiction book can. Instead, list some of the central thematic concerns of the collection and describe the poetic style. Tell your readers what kind of poems they will find in this collection. Are these prose poems, free verse, formal verse, or a combination? Are they simple, accessible poems, or complex poems with unusual syntax? Does the collection contain a lot of references?

In a book review, you will want to quote a line or two which represents some aspect of the poetry collection as a whole. Since you do not have a lot of space, choose something representative of the poet’s style. This will give readers an idea of whether or not this collection appeals to them. For more information about writing book reviews, check out How To Write a Book Review: Six Steps to Take .

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