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     A poem is a difficult term to define—literature resources differ in their definitions of poetry. In Rodenese, a poem is a carefully formed writing that presents an idea in a memorable way—it’s an emotions and senses-targeted bomb that explodes with meaning and targets truth and beauty. It‘s the packaging of the idea that differentiates poetry from prose, which refers to every type of writing but poetry.  Good poetry has a definite meaning that the vast majority of readers discover sooner or later.  It makes an impression.

The Meaning of Poetry

     The best part of poetry is discovering its meaning; the worst part, discovering its meaning.  It’s not always obvious what the poet was trying to convey, and they always assume the reader will understand and are too proud to put a caption below the poem that reads “This poems means…”  However, if a poet paraphrased each poem, that would make the poem itself a waste of time. One misconception about poetry is that they can mean anything the reader wants them to mean.  The poet always has an idea to share. The reader of poetry has to be willing to read the poem several times to take in all the poem has to offer.  Since it’s easy to be distracted by the sounds of the words themselves and the figurative language used, the reader has to look beyond that and discover the meaning or meanings.  Because of figurative language, a poem that appears to be about a partially snow-covered mountain can represent something as dissimilar as the conscious and subconscious mind.  Consequently, sometimes understanding comes with patience and a detective’s spirit to decipher the clues hidden in the figurative language. In short, reading, thinking, feeling, and deciphering are the steps to understanding.

  1. Read the poem several times and appreciate the sounds of the words and the imagery of the poem.
  2. Discover the figurative language and other tools the poet used.
  3. Consider the possibility that the poem’s meaning goes beyond its literal meaning.  Some do.
  4. Try to paraphrase what the poem means in a few sentences.

The Form of Poetry

     Once upon a time, poetry and verse were more or less synonymous.  Today, the term verse applies to poetry that follows a regular pattern to create a rhythm and often rhymes.  This type of poetry made capturing an idea even more challenging.  However, when free verse, poetry that doesn’t follow a rigid pattern, became popular, the poet could write without worrying about rhythm or rhyme, and a poem was no longer automatically verse.  This doesn’t mean that the poet who writes in free verse doesn’t pay attention to the sound of his or her poetry—rhythms do occur, but not in such a rigid pattern.  Regardless of which form is chosen, it’s the presentation of the poem’s idea that is nearly as important as the idea itself since the form makes the poem memorable.

     In traditional verse, poems are described in an odd mixture of terms that seem to target distance rather than words.  A foot is based on the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables of words.   The poet uses the natural emphasis or stress that we place on certain syllables to create a rhythmic pattern.  (In the dictionary the pronunciation guide for each word shows which syllables are accented or stressed and which are not using accent marks.)  In the guide below, I will use u to represent unstressed syllables and / to represent the stressed syllables.

Iambic- u /  as in re-peat                     Trochaic- /u as in old-er

Anapestic- uu/ as in in-ter-rupt             Dactylic-/uu as in o-pen-ly

Spondaic- // as in heart-break             Pyrrhic- uu (very rarely occurs)

The number of feet in a line of verse determines its meter.  Monometer has one; dimeter, two; trimeter, three; tetrameter, four; pentameter, five; hexameter, six; heptameter, seven; and octometer, eight.  To describe the pattern of verse, combine the type of foot with the number of feet per line or meter.  For example in a line of verse that this pattern, u/u/u/u/u/u/, each foot is iambic or u/, and since there are five feet, the meter is pentameter.  Put these two terms together to describe the single most popular type of verse—iambic pentameter.  These terms can’t be applied to free verse, which follows no definite regular pattern.

     When a poem rhymes, a rhyme scheme develops.  Each line is assigned a letter.  Lines that rhyme are assigned the same letter.  Consequently, a poem has a rhyme scheme that might look like abab cdcd with the space between letters representing where the stanzas (poetry’s paragraphs) separate.  Here are other poetry terms:

The Tools of Poetry

Poets have many tools in their figurative toolbox such as figurative language itself.  Not limited to poetry, figurative language is also heavily used in good prose writing.

Poetic tools aren’t limited to figurative language.  Some poetic devices target the sounds of words.

Some poetic tools fall into their own categories.

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