Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | June 27, 2008

How to Study: Reading Poetry


Once is never enough when it comes to reading poetry.  A poem should be read several times to get a feel for both the rhythm of its language and the content of its message.  Unfortunately, many students are not familiar with how to read poetry.  Here are some links to websites with plenty of tips on how to do just that.  After viewing them, you will be able to read poetry even better than Bullwinkle! (referring to Bullwinkle’s Poetry Corner of the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show)

Dr. Rampey’s website is a great place to start.  He gives ‘3 Simple Rules of the Road of Poetry’: (1) Don’t read line-by-line, (2) be aware that word order—i.e., subject-verb-object order—in poems often differs from that of standard English, and (3) read footnotes and use dictionaries.  

Dr. Andrew Higgins of Louisiana Tech University has the useful webpage, ‘How to Read Poetry When Your Teacher Assigns It for Homework.’  He distinguishes between reading and analyzing poems, points out that poetry is a much more economical and denser style of writing than prose, and gives an 11-step guide for reading a poem.  

‘Poetry 180’ is a Library of Congress website by former poet laureate Billy Collins.  This page gives advice for reading poetry aloud (hint: slow down!).  Poetry 180 is also a program to help schools acquaint students with poetry.  

Sonnets, haiku, tanka, iambic pentameters and alliteration?  If you are reading poems from an academic vantage, then you will need a glossary of poetry terms.  Check out this one—  

Finally, reading poetry is an excellent way to boost your critical thinking skills.  Robert J. Kloss believes that poetry is the best tool for helping college students progress through Perry’s developmental scheme of knowing .  Perry’s scheme describes a nine-step progression from viewing truth in absolute terms (e.g., things are either ‘black’ or ‘white’ with no gray areas) to recognizing conflicting versions of truth as legitimate alternatives.  Poetry is useful in this regard because “it provides more possibilities for ambiguity, varied interpretations, and multiple perspectives, three of the challenges that constrain adoption of multiplicity and relativism” (Robert J. Kloss, ‘A Nudge is Best’ in College Teaching, Vol. 42, 1994).


  1. […] is attempting to convey to you.  This blog entry will give you some pointers on reading poetry— […]

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