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Strategy for Reading Modern Poetry

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Teaching poetry comprehension can be difficult, especially when you don't even understand it. Welcome to modern poetry! These modern poetry strategies will help you understand and teach it.

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    Comprehension Strategies for Poetry

    Remember back in the good old days when teaching poetry comprehension meant bringing in a bouquet of flowers and playing piano lullabies as the class fell asleep? Modern poetry strategies are a bit more complicated. It is characterized by ambiguity, unclear meaning, and an abundance of symbolism. The untrained literarian is apt to ram his head through jagged glass after reading modern poetry unless he utilizes these modern poetry strategies.

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    Modern Poetry: Terms to Know

    TS eliot Understanding modern poetry requires an understanding of the following:

    • Free Verse: Most modern poems are written in free verse--liberating to the poet, annoying to the reader. Free verse has no fixed meter and no fixed line length or stanzas. The poet, instead, decides where the line should break based on how the poem should look on the page? Or where a natural break occurs?
    • Literal and Symbolic Meanings: The literal meaning of modern poetry often reflects every day life. These every day scenes, however, are full of symbolic meaning.
    • Diction: Modernism is a deliberate break from forms that characterized traditional poetry. Whereas traditional verse relied on formal language, modern poetry uses informal, everyday speech.
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    Best Tips For Success

    1. Realize complete understanding, as with any poem, will not come after one reading.
    2. Use clues from the poem's title to identify the topic. Often the topic will not be stated explicitly in the poem.
    3. Read through the poem once to get a general idea of what the poem's about. Don't try to figure it out the first time through.
    4. Pay attention to punctuation and the physical structure of the poem.
    5. Consider, first, the literal meaning of the poem; that is, what is the concrete object or idea being discussed. Once that is identified, concern yourself with analysis and symbolic meaning.
    6. Analyze imagery and figurative language. What is the author's purpose?
    7. Identify parts of the poem that confuse you. Can you use the poem's context to interpret confusing parts?
    8. Consider multiple ways of interpreting the poem. There may be more than one correct interpretation.
    9. Read the poem aloud. Sound devices are often clues to the poem's meaning.