I. Forms

Formal Approach to Poetry:

This page includes information to help you explore and understand the formal characteristics of poetry.

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Some Advice for Reading and Understanding a Poem

1. Read the poem and underline words and phrases that you don’t understand. Check your dictionary.
2. Listen to the poem being read. (Go to the HP) Listen for rhythm and rhyme.
3. Check the pattern of rhyme: for example, abab cdcd
4. Listen for other sound effects: alliteration, assonance, etc.

Also, think about the following:

1. Who is the speaker of the poem? The poet? Is it a character, as in a story?
2. What is the tone or mood of the speaker? Of the poem in general? Sad, happy, anxious, relaxed, excited? What words help to create this mood?
3. Is there a setting (time and place)in the poem? 
How is the place described?
4. Are there figures of speech in the poem? (metaphors, similes, etc.)
5. What do you know about the poet’s life or the culture of the time? Are there connections in the poem?

About Figurative Language

Figurative language is a special characteristic of poetry–although we use figurative language, or figures of speech, in everyday life. For example, when we say “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse,” we are using hyperbole (or overstatement).

Figures of speech can also be mixed. For example, if we say, “He eats like a pig,” this is probably an overstatement. But also it is a simile, a figure of speech where you compare two things using “like” or “as.”

In the first class, I asked you to write about the purpose of literature. Many of you wrote that literature helps us understand our nation and its culture. Many others wrote that the purpose of literature is to entertain the reader. But others said that literature helps us see the world in a new way. With poetry and figurative language that is especially true. We make new metaphors to describe our experience. We make new connections between things and create new meanings using figurative language. Poetry is one of the special ways of creating new meanings and maybe one of the most intense ways of exploring language and culture. Through literature, especially poetry, we renew our culture and hopefully get some pleasure in seeing our lives in a fresh way.

Glossary of Important Terms

1. Prosody and Poetic Language:

Basic terms, Figurative language, Poetic devices, Poetic forms, and Meter | More about Meter

2. Poetic Forms:

Ballad and Ballad StanzaEpic | Free Verse |Haiku | Lyric | Rondeau | Sonnet | Villanelle

3. Movements:

The Beat Generation | The Black Arts Movement | Confessional Poetry | Imagism | The Harlem Renaissance | Language Poetry | Modernism | Romanticism |