It can be scary reading a poem – seriously! Especially when you’re doing it with other people or for course work. (That picture is how I feel when I’m on the spot and thinking about what to say when I’m under pressure!) And maybe your first experience of poetry was a difficult one – constructing a sonnet under the beady eye of a critical teacher, more concerned with Ofsted reports than nurturing creativity. Feeling that way about poetry can take something away from the experience of just hearing the poem.
So the first thing I want to tell you is this: you don’t need to feel that way when it comes to poetry, your response may be more important than what the poet meant to say in the first place and, in fact, it’s your response to it that gives it a continuing life and meaning. So you shouldn’t worry too much about what a poem means, just let yourself lie back and listen to it, really enjoy its aroma, let its words percolate into your brain and ask yourself the difficult questions later! You wouldn’t ask what a song meant before you listened to it, would you? So you shouldn’t do that to a poem. Just try to enjoy it for what it is and think about how it makes you feel when you hear it.
But maybe you find yourself in a situation where you need to respond to the poem in some way – you’re with a group of poet friends, you’re doing English Lit, you’re on a writing for wellbeing course or you want to make a comment online to show someone you read and heard their words. Or maybe you’re not feeling scared at all. In fact, you just read a poem you really love, you’re feeling connected to the words, as if the poet was speaking directly to your experience, as if they know you and how you feel. Feeling like that, has made you want to think about this particular poem more deeply. Here’s some questions that might help get you started in thinking about it:
- What is your reaction to this poem? Do you like it? Do you hate it? What makes you feel one or the other way?
- What lines or images or moments in the poem are particularly striking or interesting to you?
- Do you notice something because it is strange? Or confusing?
- What is it about these words that are meaningful to you? Does it feel like something you recognise?
- Do you like the way it sounds? Is it melodic? What makes it sound that way?
- Does the poem say something to you? Do you feel drawn to say something to the poet/ speaker in response? What would you like to say?
- How do you feel when you read it?
- Does the poem have a particular power or beauty? What is it about the words that gives it that power or beauty?
- What do you think its mood is? What words or images in the poem gives it that mood or ambiance?
- How is this poem the same as your own experience?
- How is this poem different from your own experience?
- Would you like to change anything that happened in this poem? What would you like to happen?
- Would you like to change anything else about the poem?