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Author: Meghan Hatalla

This packet reviews:

- Writing poetry
- Analyzing poetry
- Reading poetry

New terms:

- Haiku
- Poetry
- Free verse

Tag: ENC0118

Poetry makes full use of the range of sensory emotion afforded to us by language. This packet will attempt to help guide students in reading, writing, and analyzing some of the world's best-loved poetry (from the highly-structure haiku to the literal "free" verse).

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Defining Poetry

Defining poetry is like grasping at the wind. Once you grasp it, it's no longer wind.

- Unknown


Merriam-Webster provides a technical definition of poetry, captured to the right.  While the definition address the basics of poetry, the truth is that poetry is many things to many people:

  • Homer's poetry--"The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" for example--is epic and verbose
  • Emily Dickinson never wastes a word--her poetry is like a sparse short story
  • Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" or "A Light in the Attic" collections are funny and lighthearted

This packet will brush the surface on how to read and analyze two very different types of poetry: free verse, which is pretty much what it sounds like, and haiku, which is a highly-structured form of Japanese poetry.

Though the packet only addresses two forms, you'll find that the methods used reading and analyzing for free verse and haiku are universal and interchangeable.

Free Verse

Free verse is a type of poetry that doesn't follow the "normal" pattern of poetry--it doesn't use rhyme, or a discernable rhythm--but it follows the ideas of using evocative language to inspire a specific feeling or emotion.

Though some consider free verse a somewhat lesser form of poetry--noted American poet Robert Frost compared writing free verse poetry with playing tennis without a net--there are some poets who use free verse to great effect. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is an example of a poet who used free verse very effectively. Read the aptly-titled poem (translated from Spanish) below:

Poetry - by Pablo Neruda

And something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,                                                                    line 5
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,                        line 10
and I suddenly saw
the heavens
and open.

Even though Neruda's "Poetry" doesn't seem to have a structure on the surface, can you sense the other means that Neruda uses to convey meaning? Consider

  • literal and figurative elements;
  • line length and how he uses punctuation;
  • personification, which is when something inanimate is given human qualities; and
  • contradiction, like "pure nonsense, pure wisdom" in lines 7-9.

Source: Memorial of Isla Negra [Memorial de Isla Negra] (1964), Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda [Houghton Mifflin, 1990, ISBN 0-395-54418-1] (p. 457)

Can You Haiku?

The Japanese art form of haiku is a 3 line poem. Despite its seeming simplicity, a Japanese proverb says that haiku takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master.

This MS Powerpoint presentation on haiku gives examples of haiku as well as the history and examples of this poetic structure.

Exercise: Mirror Writing

  1. Pick a poem--any poem (for these purposes, you  might want to stick to something short)--and if you have trouble finding one, Bartleby is a great online source.
  2. Copy the poem to a the far left of a piece of paper, or in a Microsoft Word document, whatever format is easiest for you.
  3. If there's a specific poetic element you're studying in class, focus on those elements. If you're not, then examine the poem as a whole and line-by-line. Does it rhyme? Does it follow a kind of beat? Is there a consistent number of lines in each stanza? Can you decipher any meaning?
  4. Using the first poem as a guide, write your own poem on the blank side of the paper (or Word document, or whatever). Here's a model from As the author states, he mirrored Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" using meter, rhyme scheme and form.