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Master class tips for reading and writing poetry, part I

Do you ever struggle to figure out what a poem means or how to approach writing one?

I’ve always loved poetry so when I studied for my MFA, I attended every poetry workshop that I could, even though it wasn’t my focus in the program.

One of my favorite classes was a master class by poet and teacher Matthew Shenoda.

One of Shenoda’s tips was to read poetry conceptually. He suggested we ask ourselves these questions:

  • What does this poem sound like?
  • What does it look like?
  • What does it smell like?
  • What is the experience of it?
  • Is the poem idea driven?

During class discussion, students shared their approaches to reading and writing poetry. Here are several of their comments:

  • Don’t ask anything of the experience, but see if the poem triggers something as you read it.
  • Look for an image to take with you when you’ve finished reading.
  • Is there a feeling or mood you can’t articulate? Start with this feeling as a way into writing a poem. All writing is an act of discovery.

For more insight, listen to this brief Q&A to hear how Shenoda finds form in his poems and read his poem, A Prayer For My People. He is the author of Somewhere Elseand Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone. Also, read Master class tips for reading and writing poetry, part II.


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