Poetry by Roger Weaver

Teaching Reading With Poetry
Teaching reading with poetry involves student engagement with the meaning of a poem. In order to evoke from students their interpretations of poems, ask the following questions, and have them write or vocalize their responses, then draw the connection, or better yet, ask them what the connection is between their answers to the questions and their overall interpretation of the poem.

1. What kind of poem is it--a love poem, or about death or loss? Does it celebrate life, vent outrage, or express another feeling?

2. Who is the audience--a single person, any literate adult, or children?

3. Does it have a pattern of rhyme or rhythm which could be called traditional? Is it free verse, with striking imagery, and arranged on the page with attention to line breaks? Is it prose poetry, presented in paragraphs (unlike free verse and traditional poetry which are arranged in stanzas), and telling a little story with an implied level of meaning?

4. What is its subject? How would you state the theme idea? What feeling or tone do you get from the poem?

5. What does it offer to the senses, the mind or the spirit?

6. Does it have clear imagery and verbal music and consider its audience?

7. Does the poem seem complete?

8. Whether or not you wrote the poem, are there any parts you would revise to improve it?

9. Does the word choice or diction seem inevitable?

10. What kind of images does it have? Are any of the following present: metaphor, simile, personification, oxymoron, hyperbole, extended analogy, or parable?

11. Does the poem repeat thought unnecessarily?

12. Who is the speaker in the poem? Does the speaker shift?

13. Does the poem avoid self pity and oversentimentality? Does it seem overwritten in any way?

Here are some suggestions for teaching reading with poetry:

1. Take a poem like “Reuben Bright,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson, a sonnet, which like so many of his thumbnail biographies tells a moment of crisis that changed a life. What
clues are in the poem which could reveal why he “tore down the slaughter house”?

2. Select a dramatic monologue of Robert Browning, perhaps “My Last Duchess.” What clues does the speaker in the poem unknowingly give about his own thoughtless cruelty?

3. A story poem like “The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes, gives students a chance to talk about the motivation, courage and sacrifice of the main characters.

4. Look at A.E. Housman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?” or “To an Athlete Dying Young,” and ask what stories lie underneath these. In the case of the first one, if it is read by two male students, one taking the part of the dead speaker, and the other all the responses of the living friend, it has a Reader’s Theater dramatic effect upon the class.