How to Read Poetry Aloud
Reading poetry aloud is a wonderful way to internalize the rhythm and cadence of beautifully crafted language, as well as poetic imagery. Learning to read poetry aloud can lead to creative recitations, and the skills learned can spill into other communication skills.
Although the old-fashioned art of recitation is practiced less often than in the one-room schoolhouses of earlier days, it remains one of the essential communication skills. Recitation not only improves elocution (the skill of clear, expressive speech), but also sharpens memory and deepens understanding of the work that is recited.
If you memorize one passage or poem per month, then present it at a formal recitation night or poetry teatime, you’ll build a rich mental library of literature worthy of meditation. Plus, it’s fun to read poetry aloud!
7 Tips for Reading Poetry Aloud
- Read the poem silently several times before trying to read it aloud. Think deeply about the meaning, and note words or lines of special significance.
- If you have access to a high-quality recorded version of the poem, listen to it, noticing the reader’s emphasis and inflections. If possible, listen to more than one reader, and note the effect of differences in pacing, tone, and pauses.
- Look up the definition of any words you don’t know so you can place emphasis where it belongs
- Read the poem aloud, making sure you know how to pronounce each word. Use the punctuation as a guide for where to pause or inflect your reading. You don’t need to pause at the end of lines where there is no punctuation that tells you to do so. Speak clearly and expressively.
- Don’t rush. Every word in a poem is rich with meaning, and if you garble through it at top speed, the beauty and meaning is lost, and you risk sounding like the Chipmunks on fast forward.
- Continue to practice reading until you’re able to read clearly, expressively, and smoothly.
- By the time you are able to read the poem aloud well, you will most likely be remembering significant portions of it, so you may as well memorize it. Use the first-letter technique of memorization to make the process simpler (page will open at the Doing What Matters blog).
For a more in-depth look at how to read poetry aloud, as well as how to understand it, visit the Academy of American Poems, where poet Edward Hirsch offers a detailed guide on reading poetry.
Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies from The Atlantic
How to Read a Poem from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Enjoy these beautiful examples from a master of poetry recitation, Richard Austin.
The 1857 McGuffey Readers, especially the Fifth and Sixth Readers, offer extensive instruction in articulation and elocution, including tips on how to use voice and body language for more effective communication.
What is the point of memorizing poetry? Dr. Ellen Condict describes it as the “artwork on the walls of our minds”–it stays with us throughout the years! Learn more about this idea in Dr. Condict’s article here.