Reading and studying poems doesn’t have to be confusing, difficult or make you feel uncomfortable. You are probably just less familiar with poetry than with other forms of writing, such as fiction.

You are likely to find poetry less challenging if you try to remember that it just the poet trying to communicate to you. They are telling you what they are thinking, how they are feeling or about their hopes and dreams, and they are choosing to do so in a condensed way, and sometimes playful, way.

It’s a bit like they are painting you a picture, except they are using words and rhythm instead of paint or chalk. There really is nothing to fear!

Here are some simple steps to take:

  • First of all make sure you read, read, read! Do so three or four times, if you can.
  • Take more time over the lines that you find difficult. Read the surrounding lines, those before and after, and see if this helps you put those trickier bits into context.
  • Look for clues; what you think about it is really important. What words or phrases mean something to you, or tell you about the poem’s main purpose? Or how the poet feels?
  • Make notes as ideas come into your head. It doesn’t matter if you change your mind, just jot everything down. You need to be able to explain and back up what you think.
  • Begin to think and make notes on the following
    • the poet’s emotions (or feelings)
    • the unusual vocabulary the poet has used
    • the imagery the poet has used
    • the structure of the poem (how it is pieced together)
    • the poetic devices within the poem (metaphor, simile, personification, rhyme, repetition, alliteration etc.)
  • Sit back and consider your thoughts and notes. Can you link them in anyway? Does the poet express contrasting ideas or thoughts? Did you enjoy the poem? If not, that’s okay, but can you give a really good reason as to why?

After considering all of these aspects you will certainly feel like you know the poem better, and that you have something to say. You may even feel like seeking out some other work by the same poet, or discovering some new ones. There is a whole world of poetry out there waiting for you to figure it out!