Deconstructing poems

Although the following teaching strategies relate specifically to poetry, they can also be used to assist the development of students' interpretive and inferential skills in deconstructing prose texts.

The challenge of reading poetry

Students often struggle with poems because they do not always make immediate sense. It would be useful to discuss with students why poets might choose to write such apparently impenetrable texts:

  • Poetry often communicates complex thoughts and feelings. More direct ways of communicating, for example through prose, might not capture this complexity of thought and feeling.
  • The fact that most poetry is so brief compared to other imaginative forms of writing means that poets are more likely to use the considerable resources of language to communicate in intense and subtle ways. Often the language can deliberately carry different meanings at the same time.
  • Poets often want their readers to work with them in contributing to making meaning of the poetry. Of course this is true of all texts to some extent, but it is particularly true of poetry. The fact that we often have to work hard is all part of the challenge and delight of reading poetry.
  • Some poets might even say that their purpose in writing poetry is to express their own private thoughts and feelings, and that the communication of these thoughts and feelings to an audience is only of secondary importance. Therefore why should they be concerned about how difficult it is to understand what they mean? But the obvious response to this is: why would poets go to the trouble of publishing their poetry if they did not want it to be read?

Strategy for reading a poem

Use the easy three-step strategy that can be used to assist in the reading of any poem:

Students may need access to a glossary explaining the meanings of some of the metalanguage needed for analysing poetry, highlighted above. Such glossaries are readily available in text books as well as on the internet.

Remember:

  • looking = seeing
  • listening = hearing
  • thinking = understanding

Ask students to use the TIE strategy to analyse the techniques used in the poem.

  • T – identify the technique
  • I – illustrate with examples
  • E – explain its effectiveness

TIE strategy (PDF 25.31KB)

References

Australian curriculum  – ACELT1623: Examining literature: Understand, interpret and discuss how language is compressed to produce a dramatic effect in film or drama, and to create layers of meaning in poetry, for example haiku, tankas, couplets, free verse and verse novels.

NSW syllabus – EN4-1A: Understand, interpret and discuss how language is compressed to produce a dramatic effect in film or drama, and to create layers of meaning in poetry, for example haiku, tankas, couplets, free verse and verse novels.

NSW literacy continuum – Comprehension, Cluster 13, Marker 9: Identifies and infers the meaning of imagery and symbolism in spoken, written, visual and multimodal texts.

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