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The elements of a poem | Reading

Let's talk about how poems work! Poetry is a special kind of writing—if ordinary writing is like talking, then poetry is like singing. Poets write lines, and where they end is called a line break. Groups of lines form stanzas. The voice telling the poem is the speaker. Poems can rhyme or not rhyme.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Hello, readers. Let's talk about poems. Poetry is a special kind of writing. If ordinary writing is like talking, then poetry is like singing. Poetry is a way of making art with language. Poems can express huge ideas or feelings. They can be about the sound or rhythm of language, or they can be goofy, little jokes. It's like any other kind of writing. Poems can be about everything or they can be about nothing at all. They can be funny, or sad, or sweet. They can rhyme. They can very much not rhyme. And all of that is, in my opinion, absolutely wonderful. I think of some poems as condensed ideas that contain a lot of ideas in small amounts of text. So every word matters a lot. There's a little light bulbs representing ideas. So I'm gonna look at a couple of poems today in order to describe some parts of a poem. Let's begin with the poem "Cat" by Marilyn Singer. It goes like this. Cat. I prefer warm fur, a perfect fire to lie beside a cozy lap, where I can nap, an empty chair when she's not there. I want heat on my feet, on my nose, on my hide. No cat I remember dislikes December inside. So the person who wrote this poem, Marilyn singer, is the poet for stories. The person who writes the poem is an author, but for poems, the writer is a poet, but who is telling the poem? Who's speaking? The person whose voice we hear in a poem is called the speaker, which is another thing I like about poetry. When you're having trouble understanding a poem, read it aloud. Part of the pleasure of poetry for me is hearing the words bounce around as you say them. And then this poem, I'm pretty sure the speaker is a cat. Now you'll notice there are only three sentences in this poem, but they're separated into 15 lines. You can see these lines have anywhere from one to four words in them. Lines can be as long or as short as a poet likes, but here the poet is creating these line breaks to indicate pauses and rhythms, right? Like normally we wouldn't start a new line here, if this were prose, which is what we call all other forms of writing. Prose uses normal sentences and paragraphs, right? The poet is choosing to create line breaks in order to change the way the sentence or the line looks on the page. Poetry is not just about how it sounds. Sometimes it's about how it looks as it's written. Now, in addition, the poet is also using spaces to scoot these three phrases over as well as this word inside. The words themselves are scooted in. They're curled up and feeling cozy, like a cat by a fire in the middle of December. You'll also notice that some but not all of the lines rhyme with each other. And let's take a moment to think for a second. What is rhyming really? One way to think about it is when the ending sound of a word matches the other ending sound of a word like lap and nap, or when a bunch of sounds match each other throughout a pair of words like remember, and December, I want to be super clear about this part because I was already out of high school before I learned this thing, but poems don't have to rhyme. They can, but they definitely don't have to. I have one more poem part to describe to you. And to do it, I wanna use Billy Collins poem "Litany" which sounds like a fancy poem at first, but then becomes much more conversational. I'll end by reading the first three stanzas, which are these paragraph looking things. Not all poems are broken into stanzas, but this one is. So those are some parts of the poem. To review, a poet writes lines. The place where each line ends is called a line break and a group of lines together in a paragraph is called a stanza. The voice that tells us the poem, the poem's narrator is called the speaker. Some poems rhyme, others don't. Cool. Here's a snippet of "Litany" by Billy Collins. Litany. You are the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine. You are the dew on the morning grass and the burning wheel of the sun. You are the white apron of the baker and the marsh birds suddenly in flight. However, you are not the wind in the orchard, the plums on the counter, or the house of cards. And you are certainly not the pine scented air. There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air. It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge. Maybe even the pigeon on the General's head, but you are not even close to being the field of corn flowers at dusk. There's more, but I'd love it if you looked it up and read it aloud yourself. You can learn anything. David out.