How to Review a Poem in 10 Steps
By Tobi Akanni
A poem is a painting of words, and that is one way to look at it, critically. It is the composition and the arrangement of choice words based on some characteristics: their rhymes; their meanings (double); their beauty, and their imagery, to convey thoughts and feelings (of the writer) usually in a short, rhythmic form. To review a poem is to break these properties down, and to analyze (them) for intent.
How to do that? Here are ten steps to guide you in doing so.
1. Read the poem
This is easily the first step in/to reviewing poetry—or any piece of literature for that matter. Aside knowledge-gaining and record-keeping, leisure is another reason we engage in reading literature. So read the poem for the joy of it. Read it to enjoy as you would normally. Let the poem speak to you and take you on a flowery journey, without the rein of judgment.
2. Re-read the poem
Now read the poem again (for a clearer understanding and oversights you may have made). Read it multiple times for as long as you need, and especially aloud. This would be important for other steps of the review, such as figuring out the rhyme and rhythmic schemes, later on, as these are key elements of a poem (because it is typically written to be read out).
3. Start with the poet
Begin your review by introducing the writer of the poem to your readers. Give a brief overview of their professional and personal background. This will not only inform, but help you, to rightly critique their work, if you're new to them. Some poets may have a recurrent voice, message or location in their writings, and it may be unfair to judge these out of context.
4. Note the theme(s)
Since the primary purpose of a poem is to express an idea, finding out what the poem is about is the next step in your review. What is the poem talking about? What is its message? What notion is it toying with? Is it nature, death or politics? Knowing what this is will deepen your appreciation of the poem.
5. Determine the mood
Poetry also reflects emotions. Emotions are spurts of sensory reactions to a stimuli, and these can indicate moods over a period of time. A mood is a general, mental state of being. A poem can contain a number of emotions such as awe and anxiety, while its mood could vary from inspired to downtrodden depending on its structure.
6. Study the language
The diction a poem employs can reveal many things about the poet's aim. It could be simple, complex or creative, such as the use of literary devices, to depict images and portray tones, for example. Study how the words are used and what for, and relay your observation in your review.
7. Assess the structure
This entail the rhymes and rhythms of the poem, made up by carefully curated words. Highlight similar sounding words or words which seem to allude to another one in meaning. Point out where emphatic stress falls, and their implication. Does one word roll into another or they deliberately force a stop at intervals? Do they have a rhyme scheme?
8. Add other unique details
If the poem has some other peculiar detail, quality or technique that catches your attention, you can add it to your review. For example; was it told from a particular point-of-view, from an era?
9. Decide what type of poem it is
This is one of the benefits of reading a poem out loud - it can help you figure out what type of poem it is depending on the analysis you've done. It could tell you whether you've reviewed a free verse, a sonnet, an haiku, ode or elegy.
Tobi Akanni is a sociology student at the Lagos State University.
When she is not writing, you can find her in a library
or at social events. She is also a lover of food and the arts.