Poetry is challenging and requires the reader to actively engage to illicit meaning. Here is a chart to help you apply poetry concepts to analyze a poem:
Paraphrase: Put the poem into your own words to better understand it. Read the poem several times out loud before you try to summarize it.
Form and Style: What form does the poem use? Formal? Free verse? Is the rhythm fast or slow? What is the style of the poem? Narrative? Confessional? Epic? How does the form and style shape the content?
Title: What is revealed in the title? How does it connect to the content of the poem? Is the title referenced again in the poem? Does it connect to the poem’s theme?
Speaker: Who is the speaker? Is the speaker (or narrator) the same person as the author? How do we know? What are the speaker’s concerns? Mood? What are the main traits of the speaker? Is the speaker interacting with anyone else in the poem?
Setting: Is the setting described or made clear? Where does it take place? When? What time of day? What season? Is the historical, political or social context important?
Turning Points: Are there turning points or moments of change? How does it begin? Is there a moment when the story, ideas, thoughts or descriptions change in order to get to the point at the end of the poem?
Tension: What is the conflict or point of tension in the poem?
Is there an external or internal conflict? Physical, spiritual, moral, philosophical, or social? How is the tension in that conflict developed with poetic elements? Is it resolved? If so, how?
Diction: What can you learn by examining the particular word choices in the poem? Are certain sounds, words or phrases repeated? How is language used to evoke the senses? Set the tone? Is metaphor used? What imagery is present?
Theme: Is there a mood or overarching aspect of the poem? Are there repeated patterns in the poem that work together? How do the parts of the poem contribute to a connecting theme?
Use the Poetry Chart and the additional study questions to analyze the following poem:
Katharine Harer’s poems have been published in literary journals, anthologies, and newspapers and on poetry websites, and she has written five books of poetry. Katharine has worked as a poet-teacher and as Statewide Coordinator of the California Poets in The Schools program, and she served as the Director of Small Press Traffic Literary Arts Center in San Francisco. For almost a decade, she co-coordinated the popular Poetry & Pizza series in downtown San Francisco. For the last thirty-six years she has taught English and Creative Writing at Skyline College (she started teaching at Skyline in 1978). She served as the faculty editor for the literary magazine, Talisman, for over twenty years. Katharine loves to perform her work, especially when accompanied by jazz musicians.
Rockaway by Katharine Harer
They stare at the ocean as if they’re When they come in
looking for something, a certain curl a and stand dripping by their cars
ripple a break in the lacy faces calm from the tossing
foam that unravels from the and riding hair tangled
hearts of waves a salty wet glaze on their skin
when you’d think they’d had enough
Slowly they undo their pants of water
all the while looking out beyond their eyes are still
themselves pull their wet suits on searching the waves
carefully like women easing
nylons over their legs all
without looking away
chests bare and soft
the rubber suit flapping at
their waists they savor every step
that takes them toward the waves
Some run like children
boards strapped to their wrists
others walk a slow, jagged line
disappearing and reappearing
patiently stroking the water
slipping inside the crashing
and coming out whole skimming
the thunder slick as glass
for as long as it lets them
Additional study questions on the poem “Rockaway”:
Questions About Craft:
- Do you see any examples of figurative language (similes or metaphors) in the poem? Identify one or more examples.
- What do the similes add to the poem?
- Do you notice any alliteration in the poem? Identify one or more examples.
- What does the alliteration add to the poem?
- Try reading the poem out loud: what do you notice about the sounds and rhythms?
- Look at some of the poet’s word choices (diction): pick out a few examples of words that help to create the scene and/or the feeling of surfing.
Questions About Structure:
- Is this poem written in free verse? Explain.
- Why do you think the poem is organized into four stanzas?
- Why do you think the poet uses very little punctuation, such as commas and periods? How does the lack of punctuation affect the “feel” of the poem?
Questions About Theme:
- How does the poem make you feel about the surfers it describes?
- Notice how the poem begins and ends: what do you think the poet wants to tell us about the surfers?