Christopher J. Padgett
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A Strategy for Reading Poetry

  1. Before reading, develop a sense of what the poem might be about based on the title alone.

  2. Read the poem silently.

  3. Read the poem aloud.

  4. Write out your initial reactions to the poem. Does the poem, for example, inspire a specific emotion? Does the poem remind you of something you've experienced, emotionally, intellectually, and/or physically?

  5. Look up and write out the definitions of unfamiliar words, phrases, and references.

  6. Underline seemingly important words. Apart from their literal definition, what is suggested by these words?

  7. Figure out if the poem has a definable structure. How many stanzas does the poem contain? Does it rhyme? Is there a rhyme scheme? Does the poem lack structure? Why?

  8. Develop a few assumptions about who you consider to be the speaker of the poem. Is the speaker male or female? How old is he or she? What in the poem leads you to make these assumptions?

  9. Figure out if the poem contains a controlling metaphor. If so, what is it? How does it relate to the rest of the poem?

  10. Based, in part, on the previous steps, develop an overall interpretation of what you think the poem "means."