Empty room with a single wooden chair

First impressions

You may have come across the word ‘stanza’ if you’ve studied poetry before. A stanza is also sometimes called a verse: it’s a group of lines of poetry set off from the rest of the poem or page by blank space. But did you know that ‘stanza’ comes from the Italian word for ‘room’?

The room

Think of a poem as a room (or a series of rooms) through which you travel. Close reading is like moving slowly around the room. You’ll observe it from different angles, examine the things found in it, and consider the effect it has on you. The more closely you look, the more you notice.

The ‘room’ of a poem is full of sounds. Individual letters, the rhythm of words, and the movement of lines all contribute to a poem’s unique soundscape. It’s important to hear poems read out loud because the sound of a poem is an essential part of its meaning.

The ‘room’ of a poem has a distinct shape. It might be long and thin, smooth and regular, sprawling or tiny. It may fill the page or be surrounded by blank space. Consider the visual impact that a poem makes on you as a reader.

The ‘room’ of a poem has an atmosphere or mood. It might be joyful or gloomy, wistful or angry, tense or silly – or any number of other things in between. It may shift over the course of a poem in subtle or dramatic ways.

Just as we form first impressions when we walk into a room, so poems make an immediate impact on us when we encounter them for the first time.


Task

Pick one of the poems below and read it out loud, or have someone read it to you.

If this poem were a room, what kind of room would it be? What sort of sounds can you hear? What sort of shape is it? What sort of atmosphere does it have?

Don’t think too hard about the poem at this stage, just go with your initial impressions and share your thoughts below.

If you’re feeling confident with this task, feel free to pick another poem that you don’t know on Poetry Foundation and repeat the exercise.

Course tip

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A-level Study Boost: Unseen Poetry and the Creative Process

University of Reading