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Part 3: The LinePart 5: Talking Back to a Poem

Starting the Conversation

We mentioned earlier that encountering a difficult poem is like a game or sport, say rock climbing, that makes you work a bit. The idea of finding handholds and footholds and ascending one bit at a time is apt. But some climbs are easier than others; some are very easy. You may enjoy an easy climb for a while, but you may also find that you want a bigger challenge. Reading poetry works the same way, and, fortunately, poets leave trails to help you look for the way “up” a poem. You’ll have to do some work, hard work in some cases, but most of the time, the trails are there for you to discover.

Although your first experience of the poem may be private and personal, we think talking about the poem is a natural and important next step. Beginning with a focus question about the poem, the discussion addresses various possible answers to the question, reshaping and clarifying it along the way. The discussion should remain grounded in the text as much as possible. Responses that move away from what is written into personal anecdotes or tangential leaps should be gently urged back into analyzing the text. The basis for shared inquiry is close reading. Good readers “dirty the text” with notes in the margins. They make the inquiry their own.

Article from Poets.org