Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Coming to Terms with Poetry


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

They say the best education we receive is that learned while teaching.  I found this to be especially true for poetry fundamentals.

I don’t recall studying poetry in jr. high English, unless studying Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” counts.  As for high school, I remember short stories, yet nothing on the poetry radar comes up for remembrance. College yes, ohmagoodness, poetry aplenty. I do recall a cacophony of emotions as I partook in the banquet of poets found in my Norton Reader. I transversed from embarrassment to  gratitude as I feasted on William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath and others I had not known existed.  Why, oh why, did I feel the compunction to resell my Norton at the campus bookstore?  College students out there?  Think twice before reselling your textbooks.  All those annotations and well-visited markings really do become appreciated some day.

norton reader

norton reader (Photo credit: cdrummbks)

These days I’m teaching to Common Core Standards and have come to terms with poetry.  They are an absolute on the schedule of attained knowledge.  I also have my AP crowd to cater.  Although I have over 200 literary terms we learn over the course of  the year in AP, I start out my ninth graders with double dozen or so.  How many do you know or remember?

  1. accent: emphasis or stress given a syllable or a particular word.
  2. alliteration: the reiterated initial consonants in prose or poetry.
  3. anaphora: repetition of an opening word or phrase in a series of lines.
  4. assonance:  the repetition of two or more vowel sounds in successive words, creating a type of rhyme.
  5. ballad: a song which tells a story; also be a poem with songlike qualities which tells a story.
  6. blank verse: the most common meter of unrhymed poetry in English; it lacks stanza form and rhyme.
  7. caesura: a pause within the line of verse.
  8. conceit: a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or an analogy that usually displays intellectual cleverness due to the unusual comparison being made.
  9. consonance: a close similarity between consonants or groups of consonants, especially at the ends of words, e.g. between “strong” and “ring.”
  10. couplet: two consecutive lines of poetry that rhyme, and often have the same meter
  11. diction: the selection of words in a particular literary work, or the language appropriate for a particular (usually poetic) work.
  12. doggerel: crude verse that contains clichés, predictable rhyme, and inept meter and rhythm.
  13. elegy: a poem which mourns the death of someone.
  14. enjambment: when one verse runs into another verse
  15. epic: a long narrative poem on a serious subject, usually centered on a heroic or supernatural person.
  16. epigram: a short poem, which can be comical.
  17. figurative language: language which goes beyond what is denoted (see denotation), and has a suggestive effect on the reader; a figure of speech is part of figurative language.
  18. free verse: poetry which lacks a regular stress pattern and regular line lengths (and which may also be lacking in rhyme). Free verse should not be confused with blank verse
  19. haiku: Japanese form of poetry of seventeen syllables with three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables
  20. heroic couplet: a couplet with iambic pentameter
  21. iamb: a metrical foot of one short or unstressed syllable followed by one long or stressed syllable.
  22. imagery: often taken as a synonym for figurative language, but the term may also refer to the ‘mental pictures’ which the reader experiences in his/her response to literary works or other texts.
  23. kitsch: sentimentality, tastelessness, or ostentation in any of the arts.
  24. limerick: a five line humorous poem involving a fixed aabba rhyme scheme
  25. lyric: a short non-narrative poem that has a solitary speaker, and that usually expresses a particular feeling, mood, or thought.
  26. metaphor: a direct comparison–it does not use “like,” “as,” or “than.” In literature it is a figurative statement asserting one thing is something that it is not.
  27. meter: the recurrence of a similar stress pattern in some or all lines of a poem.
  28. ode: a relatively lengthy lyric poem, usually expressing exalted emotion in a complex scheme of rhyme and meter.
  29. onomatopoeia: a word or expression which resembles the sound which it represents, like the meow of a cat or the quack of a duck.
  30. pastoral: usually written by an urban poet who idealizes the shepherds’ lives. The term has now been extended to include any literary work which views and idealizes the simple life from the perspective of a more complex life.
  31. prosody: the rhythm of spoken language, including stress and intonation, or the study of these patterns
  32. repetition: the duplication of any element of language such as a sound, word, phrase, sentence, or grammatical pattern.
  33. rhyme: the identity of the sounds of the final syllables (usually stressed) of certain proximate lines of a poem.
  34. scan: to assign stress patterns to a poem.
  35. simile: a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word “like” or “as,” e.g. “as white as a sheet.”
  36. symbol: a person, place, thing, or event that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself.
  37. syntax: how an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences; similar to diction which is focused on individual words, yet syntax is concerned with groups of words.
  38. theme:  the central idea or insight about human life revealed within the work.
  39. tone: the attitude, as it is revealed in the language of a literary work, of a personage, narrator or author, towards the other personages in the work or towards the reader.
  40. voice: the writer’s distinctive use of language, which is created through the use of a writer’s tone and diction.

 Okay, there is about a triple dozen and a dose for good measure here. Some terms crossover into prose which is why we start off with poetry before short stories. We’ve found our students grasp analyzing smaller chunks of literary concepts and then retain those terms and skills for the longer works.

So, how did you do?  I didn’t include the various types of poems in this set.  Stay tuned…

Happy Poetry Month


Poetry (Photo credit: Kimli)


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17 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Poetry

  1. I love your coming in terms with literature. It was even a ping back to the kind of thing I wrote. I will come back and read more. Thanks for your wonderful explanation. I am a true believer in poetry, and will love to come back to this. Thanks for more clarification.

  2. I did not like poetry as a student and now have a major unit I teach to my 4th graders every year! I teach old stuff (Dickinson, Cummings, Sandburg), but there is so much fun new stuff too. I teach Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Creech in conjunction with the poems. I also found a new book called Gone Fishing by Wissinger. Both of these are geared towards elementary, but it might make some of the poetry terms more accessible to high school kids? Just thought I would pass the names along!

    • Is this part of Common Core? I piloted the freshmen this year and tried to go by their suggestions– some are pretty deep, hence the terms help with their analysis

  3. Is it bad that I plan to use this for my next poetry essay instead of my £30 poetry handbook I still haven’t opened, three years into my degree? :p

  4. ah, this takes me back!

  5. Wow. I knew a fair few of those terms from high-school, but others were completely new! Thank you for shedding a light on this vital art-form and its key components 🙂

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