Be able to respond to poetry based on your experiences and knowledge

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  • Poetry

Poetry Unit

  • Be able to respond to poetry based on your experiences and knowledge.
  • Be able to read & interpret themes, images, and devices used in poetry.
  • Analyze and interpret poetry in written and spoken forms.
  • Know & use poetry terminology, types of poems, and features of poetry.
  • Connect poetry to human experience.
  • Be able to use reader response and literary analysis techniques.

What is poetry?

  • Poetry rebels against your definitions… it is but it isn’t, it can be but it doesn’t need to be, it might but it doesn’t always.
  • Poetry can’t by pinned down by your logic or need to know it- poetry just is.
  • Poetry doesn’t want to be shackled by your limitations or told who to be. Poetry just is.
  • Nobody sits around reading poetry just for fun (well, some people do, but…) poetry smacks you in the face with an epiphany when you least expect it.

That said…

  • Poetry tends to be about the economy of language- using words, carefully, well, chiselling words out of stone cold marble into something beautiful.
  • Pithy statements, carefully crafted images, and word play are more common in poetry.
  • Poetry tends to be more about story and emotion than cold hard logic.
  • Poetry tends to “spill out” and deal with emotion, intense human experiences, or insights into what it means to be human.
  • There is a poem for everyone. You just have to find it.

Do not do this to poetry:

  • I hate you poetry! You mean nothing to me!
  • I refuse to accept you for who you are poetry… you must change into what I want you to be.
  • It’s what I think so there is no right or wrong answer (well, yes… but there is weak or faulty interpretation that doesn’t take into account the text, poet’s intent, devices, or poem…)
  • Vivisection- dissecting poetry like a biology experiment while it’s alive and breathing, ripping it apart so much that you can’t put it back together to make sense of what it is.

Big ideas

  • Take a moment. Think back on the last few slides. Review. Write yourself a little note about how you and poetry can be friends.

Different formats of poems

  • Poetry tends to be divided into two groups: those with rules and those without rules.
  • How can you tell?
  • How many lines are in the poem? Some poems have rules about the number of lines- sonnets have only 14 lines (no more, no less).
  • How many syllables are in each line? Is there a pattern? Some poems must have a regular pattern of meter or number of syllables per line (blank verse must have 10 stressed / unstressed syllables per line).
  • What is the rhyme scheme or pattern of end rhyme? Some poems have rules about rhyme (limerick = aabba)
  • What is the topic or purpose of the poem? Does the poem describe nature or emotions? Is the poem about grief or love? Is the poem telling a story?

Terms of line arrangement

  • STANZA= groupings of lines of poetry (like a paragraph in prose writing)
  • Two lines = couplet
  • Four lines = quatrain
  • Five lines = cinquain
  • Six lines = sestet
  • Eight lines = octave
  • Paragraph groupings = similar themes and topics.
  • Look for main ideas in each stanza.
  • Some forms require rules for each stanza (problem, solution, ideal).

Free Verse Poetry

  • Most common form of modern poetry.
  • Has no rules of topic, subject, number of lines, rhyme scheme, meter, or anything else. May rhyme, but no real pattern & doesn’t have to.
  • Can be whatever it wants.
  • More about the words and ideas without being constrained by rules.
  • When in doubt- it’s probably free verse if it follows no other pattern.

Formula poetry

  • Some poems have rules. The rules can be about topic / purpose, number of lines, rhyme scheme, or syllables per line (meter).
  • Simple formula = rhyme or don’t rhyme
  • Blank verse has no rhyme but ten syllables in each line.
  • Sonnets have rules about topic, lines, stanza, rhyme scheme, origin.
  • Haiku, Limerick, Cinquain, Acrostic, Tanka - short forms with clear rules.


  • 5/ 7 / 5 syllables per line
  • Describes nature as a metaphor for life lessons
  • Japanese in origin- simplicity, aesthetics, beauty, depth related to Zen Buddhism
  • The fierce wind rages
  • And I see how trees survive
  • They have learned to bend
  • By Don Raye


  • Humorous, funny, silly, raunchy in tone with lots of innuendo.
  • Only five lines.
  • Lines 1,2, 5 rhyme, lines 3 & 4 rhyme differently (aabba)
  • Clear rhythm and meter makes a sing song effect. (8, 8, 5,5, 8-9)
  • Line one introduces a person from somewhere.
  • Line two explains something ridiculous about them.
  • Line three and four begin a story
  • Line five ends with a twist or surprise.
  • A lady from near Lake Louise
  • Declared she was bothered by fleas
  • She used gasoline
  • And later was seen
  • Sailing over the hills and the trees.


  • Express a single, powerful emotional experience.
  • Use techniques of meter to build rhythm, rhyme to make patterns, and melody to make it catchy.
  • Often have a chorus like song lyrics.
  • Traditional formal type of poetry using formal and sincere language.
  • Song lyrics sorta count -ish.

Lyric - ode / elegy / ballad

  • Lyrics poems are like song lyrics- meant to be musical, meant to be emotional expressions of a feeling.
  • Lyrics can combine with other types of poem since it’s about the purpose, not the lines / rhyme / etc.
  • Odes= express joy, gratitude or amazement- praising someone or something.
  • Elegy = like a eulogy, grieve for someone or something that is lost
  • Ballad= lyric + narrative- poem that tells a story with a chorus like song structure.
  • Sonnet= lyric + formula.


  • 14 line poem written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line).
  • Italian / Petrarchan
  • One octave and a sestet abbaabba cdecde
  • States a vision / desire / problem offers solution
  • English / Shakespearean
  • Four quatrains and a rhyming couplet (abab cdcd efef gg).
  • States a thesis or problem, considers other points of view, couplet is the conclusion.
  • Traditional lyric poetry- almost always about love and death, formal courting, the end is always profound, uses techniques of songs with strong meter, rhythm, sound devices, etc.


  • Narrative = tells a story (not an anecdote- must have characters, conflict, follow story plot structure, etc.).
  • Can be combined with ballad- a type of lyric poetry that tells a story with a chorus.
  • Epic= typically longer- book length poems.
  • The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
  • The Odyssey by Homer


  • Poems which teach an explicit moral lesson. Rarely used in “literary” poems but common in children’s collections or anthologies that support a specific p.o.v. (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Biblical poems, etc.).
  • Tend to be formal in structure, often relying on a rhyme scheme and strict meter.
  • Always have a pithy moral statement.

Sound Devices

  • Poetry is meant to be read aloud so it contains many devices of sound that you can only find by reading it aloud.
  • People find it easier to express ideas musically- sound devices work well with this.
  • Sound devices in poetry create cadence, rhythm, and melodic patterns.
  • The sing-song effect builds a memory trick, a hook, a way of getting past your defenses to offer you an idea (like ads).


  • Repeating words or phrases creates emphasis, rhythm, and patterns that stick in our minds (think ads).
  • Repetition helps to build a theme- reminds us what the point is.


  • Meter is the regular repetition of syllables per line.
  • Accented and unaccented, stressed and unstressed syllables make a pattern of sound.
  • Scansion- ridiculous study of words with syllable patterns and stress
  • Iambic pentameter- five metrical feet with an unstressed / stressed pattern with 10 syllables per line.

How ridiculous is scansion?

  • Iamb (unstressed / stressed)
  • Trochee (stressed / unstressed)
  • Anapest (un / un / stressed)
  • Dactyl (stressed / un / un)
  • Spondee (un / unstressed
  • Foot = two syllables
  • Monometer (one foot)
  • Dimeter (two feet = 4 syllables)
  • Trimeter (three feet)
  • Tetrameter (four feet)
  • Pentamer (five feet)
  • Hexameter (six feet)
  • Heptameter (seven feet)
  • So one line of iambic pentameter is five feet or ten syllables long with a pattern of unstressed / stressed syllables)… or it just sounds cool & sing-songy?


  • Words which sound the same (or close enough) create a rhythmic pattern in poetry.
  • Rhyme scheme = the pattern of rhyme and which words match- labelled with letters (ababefef)
  • Internal rhyme- rhymes within the line
  • There are strange things done
  • in the midnight sun
  • End rhyme- rhymes at the end of the line
  • I shall never see
  • Anything as lovely as a tree
  • Approximate rhyme = close enough that it sounds good- Gloom & loon
  • Perfect rhyme: exact in sound and spelling- night, light, sight
  • Masculine rhyme: single syllable words that rhyme - song long wrong
  • Feminine rhyme= two or more syllable words that rhyme - deliver quiver shiver


  • Words that repeat the sound.
  • Often the beginning consonant is repeated as in tongue twisters.
  • She sells seashells by the seashore.
  • The sound holds the words together for more impact, memorability, fluidity.
  • Sound not letter!
  • Slowly, silently, she slipped into sensory silver.
  • Assonanace: repeats vowel sounds within a line of poetry
  • He beams beneath entire eaves
  • Consonance: repetition of consonant letters inside words, often heavy
  • The little cat sits at the empty spot.


  • Words that sound like what they mean.
  • Can be animal noises- meow, ruff, moo
  • Can be comic book noises- zap, pow, kaboom
  • Can be subtle- tinkling, buzzing, hissing
  • Used to emphasize and reflect ideas and mood.
  • Builds imagery and sensory details.


  • A sense of movement and flow in poetry.
  • Cadence, beat, pattern, melody, pace, tempo, just like in music.
  • Develops from meter, rhyme, repetition.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Half a league, half a league,
  • Half a league onward,
  • All in the valley of Death
  • Rode the six hundred.
  • "Forward, the Light Brigade!
  • "Charge for the guns!" he said:
  • Into the valley of Death
  • Rode the six hundred.
  • "Forward, the Light Brigade!"
  • Was there a man dismay'd?
  • Not tho' the soldier knew
  • Someone had blunder'd:
  • Theirs not to make reply,
  • Theirs not to reason why,
  • Theirs but to do and die:
  • Into the valley of Death
  • Rode the six hundred.
  • Cannon to right of them,
  • Cannon to left of them,
  • Cannon in front of them
  • Volley'd and thunder'd;
  • Storm'd at with shot and shell,
  • Boldly they rode and well,
  • Into the jaws of Death,
  • Into the mouth of Hell
  • Rode the six hundred.

Describing sounds

  • Cacophony
  • Harsh, loud, grating, disjointed, clanging sounds
  • Often heavy on the harsh consonants- k, p , t, etc.
  • Euphony
  • Pleasant, melodious, soothing, calm, mellow sounds
  • Often heavy on vowels and soft consonants like s, f, l, m, etc.

Poetic Devices

  • Poets use tricks to build their ideas and the feel or sound of a poem.
  • These poetic devices or literary terms can be divided into two main categories- those that deal with sound and those that deal with meaning.
  • Figurative language, or using words to play with their meaning and build imagery or ideas, adds depth and interest to language.

The Iceberg

  • Denotation = dictionary definition of words, what you see is what you get, literal.
  • Connotation: suggestions, implications, nuance, evocation of meaning from the words chosen. Poets use economy of language or carefully chosen words to say what they mean- it’s not an accident.
  • Think about how poets use language to explain their ideas.

Simile = comparison

  • “She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies.” (Byron)
  • Compares how she walks to a beautiful night.
  • He is taller than a tree.
  • Compares his height to that of a tree.
  • An indirect comparison.
  • X is like, as or than Y- must use the words and usually shows up in a simple sentence.

Metaphor = comparison

  • A direct comparison.
  • Draws on similar qualities like an analogy.
  • Does not use like, as or than.
  • Can be extended over several lines, throughout a movie, or throughout any work of literature.
  • Draws on mood & tone to create an image or idea.
  • “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” (Noyes)
  • Compares the way the moon looks to a ship bouncing on rough waves (clouds).


  • Giving human qualities to an inanimate thing or object that has no life.
  • Gives feelings, actions, or emotions to objects.

Oxymoron = opposites

  • Using contradictory descriptors to create a new idea (often the halfway point that has no word to describe it).
  • Can be a subtle combination of two words.
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Tight slacks
  • Terribly happy

Hyperbole = exaggeration

  • Deliberately using exaggeration to gain attention, emphasize a point, show intense emotion (often exasperation).
  • If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…
  • I use hyperbole a zillion times a day.


  • Formal, old fashioned device, often used in odes.
  • Someone absent, dead, or a non-living thing is addressed as though they were present.
  • The poem may be devoted to that absent figure.
  • Busy old fool, unruly sun,
  • Why dost thou thus,
  • Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
  • Often uses “O!” of “thou” or talks about “him” as though he was there.


  • A polite figure of speech, using delicate words for something taboo or yucky (sex, bodily functions, death).
  • Reveals our fears and cultural issues.
  • Common language, not always poetic.
  • He has to visit the little boy’s room.
  • She was a lady of the night or she worked in the world’s oldest profession.
  • He stepped on a duck.
  • He passed away as a result of friendly fire.

Allusion = references

  • A reference to a famous event or character from history, literature, the Bible, or mythology to draw on similarities.
  • We’re all expected to know the past common experience and culture.
  • Like shorthand.
  • Can be pop culture references or tv / movies.
  • By the time Friday rolled around, I felt like Sisyphus.
  • The children were fighting so I had to play Soloman.
  • Et tu Brute?
  • The students were all complaining about their marks- oh well, let them eat cake!

Imagery = description

  • Using sensory details of sight, sound, taste, texture, hearing to build an image or picture in the reader’s mind.
  • Repeats ideas as a motif throughout a whole work.
  • The watermelon fresh scent of newly mowed green grass wafted across the tree-lined neighbourhood mixing with bbq smells and buzzing bees.


  • A concrete object represents an abstract idea or emotion.
  • Public or universal symbols are things we all understand and know from our culture (a heart represents love, a dove represents peace).
  • Private or discrete symbols are used in only one work, created by the author for his/ her purposes in that work but won’t be repeated.
  • Detect symbols by looking at what the author points to- what’s important? Repeated?


  • Seasons: people compare their lives to nature.
  • spring is youth, rebirth, growth, new beginnings= this is when things in nature grow
  • Fall= decline, harvest, mid life
  • Winter= nothing grows, cold, dormant, fruitless, no activity.
  • Weather & Geography = earthquakes rattle the foundations, humid weather weighs us down, cold weather freezes us, storms say upset and upheaval, a change in plans.
  • Colours = purple = royalty
  • Yellow= cowardice / happy
  • White= purity / black= death
  • Blue= calm /spiritual
  • Places =island= isolation
  • Garden = Eden
  • Hill / mountain= challenge
  • Wall / castle = barrier
  • Volcano= erruption of emotions
  • Cliff= on the edge, risk

Understanding Poetry

  • Poetry can be a gut instinct- just something you know and get immediately.
  • Poetry can be a learned skill like math- A+ B = C or if you know the form and the devices then you can interpret the meaning.
  • Finding the right poem for you is a personal thing because it’s about emotion, and experience, and knowing what you need to understand about the world around you.
  • When in doubt, read more poetry.

Responding to poetry

  • They had no idea
  • that all those
  • model planes
  • and
  • model cars
  • and
  • model boats
  • and
  • model
  • spaceships
  • were all just
  • their
  • model child’s
  • excuse
  • to
  • sniff
  • model glue.
  • By David Eaton
  • Gut reaction?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you think?
  • Immediate response?
  • How does the line arrangement build suspense?
  • How does the simple language help to get the point across?
  • What is the point?

Everyday Language

  • Before he asked for her hand in marriage, they slept together. Her father had a cow and wigged out.
  • He passed wind as the hussy, who worked in the world’s oldest profession, left this world.
  • Our everyday language often uses figures of speech.
  • We don’t always say what we mean… we use language in fun ways to say weird things.

Interpreting Poetry

  • Interpreting poetry is NOT just about how you feel or think.
  • The poem and it’s author have rights too!
  • The text has meaning before you.
  • Your interpretation of the text has validity too.
  • A good interpretation is you, your experiences and your ideas meeting the author in a conversation.
  • Good interpretations
  • live here.
  • Your feelings & response
  • The poet’s intent / words on the page

Show, don’t tell

  • She is messy.
  • His black eye is almost swollen shut.
  • The old woman got ready for bed.
  • She wears her clothes as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork.
  • His shiner is like a burnt blanket across his face.
  • A purple balloon imploded under his eye.
  • You stood at the dresser
  • Put your teeth away
  • Washed your face
  • Smoothed on Oil of Olay.

Interpreting- You and the Author

  • What is the poem about?
  • How does connotation affect the poem? Positive and negative word choices & meaning?
  • Where do you end the text begins? Who rules in this situation?
  • My Papa’s Waltz
  • By Theodore Roethke
  • The whiskey on your breath
  • Could make a small boy dizzy;
  • But I hung on like death
  • Such waltzing was not easy.
  • We romped until the pans
  • Slid from the kitchen shelf;
  • My mother’s countenance
  • Could not unfrown itself.
  • The hand that held my wrist
  • Was battered on one knuckle;
  • At every step I missed
  • My right ear scraped a buckle.
  • You beat time on my head
  • With a palm caked hard by dirt;
  • Then waltzed me off to bed
  • Still clinging to your shirt.

Writing about poetry

  • You are required to show your understanding of poetry in different ways.
  • Know your terms and be able to identify them in discrete examples.
  • Be able to apply your knowledge of poetry, devices, figurative language and meaning / interpretation.
  • Your exam will expect you to connect a THEME of a poem to other works of literature and write an essay and / or paragraph.
  • Be able to explain your interpretations using full and complete paragraphs.

Puzzle Poems- the title is the topic use the clues in the text to build a theory of what the poem is about

  • A filing-cabinet of human lives
  • Where people swarm like bees in tunneled hives,
  • Each to his own cell in the towered comb,
  • Identical and cramped- we call it home.
  • What images come to mind?
  • Is the author using figurative language?
  • What is the poet describing?
  • What do you think the title is?
  • With hocked gems financing him
  • Our hero bravely defied all scornful laughter
  • That tried to prevent his scheme.
  • Your eyes deceive, he had said;
  • An egg, not table
  • Correctly typifies this unexplored planet.
  • Now three sturdy sisters sought proof
  • Forging along sometimes through calm vastness
  • Yet more often over turbulent peaks and valleys.
  • Days become weeks
  • As many doubters spread
  • Fearful rumors about the edge.
  • At last, from nowhere
  • Welcome winged creature appeared
  • Signifying momentous success.
  • Stilted creature
  • Features fashioned as a joke
  • Boned and buckled
  • Finger painted
  • They stand in the field
  • On long-pronged legs
  • As if thrust there.
  • They airily feed
  • Slightly swaying
  • Like hammer-headed flowers.
  • Bizarre they are
  • Built silent and high
  • Ornaments against the sky.
  • Ears like leaves
  • To hear the silken
  • Brushing of the clouds.

“I am a Rock”

  • Identify and apply all literary, figurative, and sound devices in the poem.
  • Apply your understanding. Techniques have a purpose= why did the author use this? Show your knowledge.
  • Outline ideas into a logical format- explain yourself.


  • In Latin, invictus means “unconquered” It’s a poem about not fighting. There are souls and its awesome how so cool the poet is I love poetry because of this poem. It’s a famous poem by some guy named Henry. Everyone knows and loves this poem. I had no idea how amazing poetry could be until this poem moved my spirit so good.
  • This poem is about some guy who was digging a hole and he fell into the pit so he must be a loser because he like stayed in there and spend all night and complains but hes dumb. Even though he does nothing he says his awesome and he’s really stupid it was dumb poem and I am bored by poetry why should I do this.

Or you could do this to “Invictus”

  • W.E. Henley’s poem “Invictus” is about the unconquerable strength human beings can have if they choose to survive. The narrator has had bad luck and suffered “the bludgeonings of chance,” and the “menace of the years.” Clearly he has had some bad times. But in the end he does not “wince”, nor complain, nor “cry aloud” because he just doesn’t give up. The format and style of the poem imply an plodding determination with the meter and rhythm and the tone of the poem clearly indicates perserverance. In the end, the poet becomes “the master of [his] fate” because he worked hard to live his life and build a dream.

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