WRITING/SPEAKING ABOUT POETRY
One of the most demanding tasks you will face is a written or spoken response to a poem. How can you write/speak a clear, confident, well-supported essay or speech about poetry?
WHAT’S THE POINT? The Subject Matter of the poem
You need to start with a clear idea of what the point of writing/speaking about poetry is. The goal of the assessment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how these elements support your thesis.
This task will help you enjoy poetry more. One of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author. When you construct an analysis of the poem, you are not only showing you understand the poem, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem.
WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT WRITING/SPEAKING ABOUT POETRY
Find something specific you want to show about the poem. This will be your thesis. You will support this thesis by drawing examples and evidence from the poem itself. In order to make a credible argument about the poem, you will want to analyse how the poem works—what genre the poem fits into, what its themes are, what poetic techniques and figures of speech are used.
One place to start is to look at any significant themes that emerge from the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, war, peace, friendship…? Do other themes show up in the poem? Are there specific historical events mentioned? What are the MOST IMPORTANT CONCEPTS that are addressed?
What kind of poem is it? Is it an EPIC (a long poem on a heroic subject – eg. Boewulf, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?) Is it a SONNET (a brief poem, usually consisting of 14 lines)? Is it an ode? A satire? An elegy? A lyric? Does it fit a specific literary movement such as MODERNISM, ROMANTICISM, RENAISSANCE poetry? Do some research to find answers to these questions.
Look closely at the poem’s rhyme and meter. Is there an identifiable rhyme scheme? Is there a set number of syllables in each line? (The most comment metre for poetry in English is iambic pentameter, which has five feet of two syllables each (thus the name pentameter) in each of which the strongly stressed syllable follows the unstressed syllable. Is there a pause in the middle of a line (caesura), and enjambment (continuing a grammatical sentence or clause from one line to the next.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
Are there literary devices used that affect how you read the poem?
METAPHOR: comparison between two unlike things
SIMILE: comparison between two unlike things using ‘like or ‘as
PERSONIFICATION: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
IRONY: A difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them
(Check your FIGURES OF SPEECH list for more…)
How does the poem you’re looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? If it’s a poem about war, what specific war, what was the mood of the people at the time?
Follow some standard conventions when writing/speaking about poetry. First, it’s best to use present tense. Second, make numerous use of quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument. If there is relevant outside criticism of the poem, include these in your essay/speech, with citations of course.
Be guided by your teacher.