How to Read (and Write About) Poetry
  • Publication Date: July 7, 2015
  • ISBN: 9781551119915 / 1551119919
  • 208 pages; 6" x 9"

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How to Read (and Write About) Poetry

  • Publication Date: July 7, 2015
  • ISBN: 9781551119915 / 1551119919
  • 208 pages; 6" x 9"

A new edition of this title is forthcoming fall 2021.

How to Read (and Write About) Poetry invites students and others curious about poetry to join the critical conversation about a genre many find a little mystifying, even intimidating. In an accessible, engaging manner, this book introduces the productive questions, reading strategies, literary terms, and secondary research tips that will empower readers to participate in literary analysis. Holbrook explicates a number of meaty poems, initiating readers into critical discourse while highlighting key poetic terms. These useful terms are fully defined in a glossary at the back of the book. The explications are followed by selections of related works, so the book thus offers what amounts to a brief anthology, ideal for a poetry unit or introductory class on poetry and poetics. Readers can bring some of the new skills they’ve acquired to these selections, which range across periods and styles. A chapter on meter illuminates the rhythmic dimension of poetry and guides readers through methods of scansion.

Holbrook also offers guidance on essay writing, preparing students for literary discussion within and beyond the classroom. The conciseness of the book makes it portable and affordable, while its various instructive components make it a resource that will continue to serve its readers as their explorations of poetry continue.


“Susan Holbrook’s How to Read (and Write About) Poetry is a terrific textbook for helping students become more confident and careful readers of poetry. Offering a terrific selection of primary texts, from Shakespeare to Harryette Mullen, William Blake to Gertrude Stein, this collection also offers a terrific selection of strategies for and examples of the practice of reading poetry. Holbrook’s engaging writing style and judicious groupings of poems offer something for every student and every instructor.” — Deborah Mix, Ball State University


How to Use This Book

Introduction: What Makes Poetry Poetry and Why Are We So Afraid of It?

Poem Discussion One: Sonnet 130, by William Shakespeare

  • More Sonnets by William Shakespeare
    • Sonnet 18
      Sonnet 20
      Sonnet 73
      Sonnet 116

Poem Discussion Two: Harlem Dancer, by Claude McKay

  • More Poems by Writers of the Harlem Renaissance
    • The Castaways, Claude McKay
      Tableau, Countee Cullen
      The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes
      Letter to My Sister, Anne Spencer

Poem Discussion Three: I, Being born a Woman and Distressed, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

  • More Modern and Contemporary Sonnets
    • Poetics Against the Angel of Death, Phyllis Webb
      Nothing in That Drawer, Ron Padgett
      Sonnet #15, Alice Notley
      so’net I, Paul Dutton
      Sonnet for Bonnie, Darren Wershler-Henry
      Dim Lady, Harryette Mullen

Poem Discussion Four: The Dance, by William Carlos Williams

  • More Ekphrastic Poems
    • Young Sycamore, William Carlos Williams
      Venus Transiens, Amy Lowell
      Preciosilla, Gertrude Stein
      Why I Am Not a Painter, Frank O’Hara
      from Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., Fred Wah

Poem Discussion Five: Ode on a Grecian Urn, by John Keats

  • More Odes, Apostrophes, Addresses
    • Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats
      A Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsberg
      July Man, Margaret Avison
      To My Twenties, Kenneth Koch
      Late One Night, Margaret Christakos

Poem Discussion Six: The Tyger, by William Blake

  • More Poems about Animals
    • The Lamb, William Blake
      The Flea, John Donne
      A narrow Fellow in the Grass, Emily Dickinson
      A DOG, Gertrude Stein
      The Shark, E. J. Pratt
      Bird-Witted, Marianne Moore

Poem Discussion Seven: r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r, by E.E. Cummings

  • More Concrete Poems
    • Easter Wings, George Herbert
      l(a, E.E. Cummings
      Forsythia, Mary Ellen Solt
      Cycle No. 22, bp Nichol
      In Medias Res, Michael McFee
      Love Song, Margaret Christakos

Poem Discussion Eight: Daddy, by Sylvia Plath

  • More Poems “for the ear”
    • Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
      God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins
      at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989, Lucille Clifton
      Zong! #1, M. NourbeSe Philip
      Ravine, Louis Cabri

Poem Discussion Nine: kitchenette building, by Gwendolyn Brooks

  • More Poems Displaying the Poetic Force of Syntax
    • When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, Walt Whitman
      In a Station of the Metro, Ezra Pound
      ASPARAGUS, Gertrude Stein
      since feeling is first, E.E. Cummings
      Rolling Motion, Erin Mouré
      monday, Lisa Robertson
      Winter, Mark Truscott

Poem Discussion Ten: The Three Emilys, by Dorothy Livesay

  • More Feminist Poems
    • Prologue, Anne Bradstreet
      In An Artist’s Studio, Christina Rossetti
      Sheltered Garden, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)
      Blues Spiritual for Mammy Prater, Dionne Brand
      Body Politics, Louise Bernice Halfe

A Brief Guide to Meter

How to Write about Poetry

Glossary of Poetic Terms

Works Cited

Permissions Acknowledgements


Susan Holbrook is a poet, critic, and professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor.

For a sample from How to Read (and Write About) Poetry, click here. (Opens as a PDF.)

— Fluidly integrates poems with pedagogical material
— Witty and entertaining
— Portable and affordable
Diverse range of poetic styles and forms
— Helpful and very concise section on writing essays about poetry
Student essays in draft form, with editing markup, and in complete and polished form
— Productive questions, reading strategies, and secondary research tips
— Includes glossary of terms
— Concise anthology component
Chapter on meter illuminates the rhythmic dimension of poetry and guides readers through scansion