• University of York

Poetry: How to Read a Poem

Discover what poetry can tell us about human emotion and learn key ideas and techniques for understanding and interpreting verse.

17,399 enrolled on this course

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Poetry: How to Read a Poem

17,399 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

Dive into the wonderful world of poetry and learn how to analyse a poem

Humans have communicated their thoughts, ideas, and feelings through poetry throughout history. At its best, it tells us new truths about the human experience. However, it’s often presented as hard to understand without expert knowledge.

On this course, you’ll build your confidence in reading and enjoying poetry.

Whether you’re a poetry fanatic or you’re eager to learn, you’ll learn tools for approaching the study of poetry, ways to express your appreciation of poetry, and ways to find new riches in your favourite poems.

This course will also give you guidance on developing your own poetic voice when writing verse.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Some people don’t like poetry. Addressing this problem head on, the American Modernist poet, Marianne Moore, confesses that verse can be slippery, difficult, even unintelligible. In her poem, ‘Poetry’, she says that the quest of the poet is to keep writing, to find a way to express the things that matter. The poet’s job is to find a language that fits, and transforms, the contours of the world. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine. Poetry matters. It describes events and emotions we recognise but can’t express.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds It conjures new states of feeling into being; offers new ways to experience our own lives and the lives of others.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds Whether you’re nervous of poetry or a fully-fledged fan, ‘How to Read a Poem’ is the course for you. You’ll spend four weeks reading a wide range of poems, in the company of world-leading experts and one of the world’s most important contemporary poets, Vahni Capildeo.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds MARIANNE MOORE SAYS: ‘We do not admire what we cannot understand’. ‘How to Read a Poem’ will help you to understand poems, to talk about them effectively, and even to write your own. And it will give you lots of opportunities to admire – and to enjoy! – the brilliance of poetry from across the ages and across the world. If you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion– the raw material of poetry in all its rawness, and that which is on the other hand, Genuine, then you are interested in poetry.


  • Week 1

    Introductions and Foundations

    • Introductions

      Some basic housekeeping and saying hello.

    • Favourite poems

      In this activity there's a chance to learn about some of our favourite poems, and to share some of your own. What intrigues us about these poems? What puzzles us?

    • Poetic tradition

      In this activity we'll think about the history of poetic tradition. We'll explore how poets have engaged with, adapted, and subverted different traditions.

    • Closing thoughts

      Summing up what we have covered this week, and suggesting ways to take your thinking further.

  • Week 2

    Poetic Form

    • Introduction to Week Two

      This week we're thinking about poetic form—from the sonnet to the ghazal—and we'll discuss how you analyse poetic form.

    • Reading with form

      In this activity, we'll think about the history of poetic form. We'll hear from poets on how they think about form, and you'll have a chance to share what you know about form. What is poetic form?

    • Poetry bootcamp

      Brush up your poetry analysis skills with our poetry bootcamp. We'll learn how to think about metre and how to scan a line.

    • Poems on the page

      How do we put poems together? How do we print them? Here, we'll hear from the Thin Ice Press on printing poetry and you'll have a chance to think about how you might put a poem together.

    • Closing thoughts

      Summing up what we have covered this week, and suggesting ways to take your thinking further.

  • Week 3


    • Introduction to Week Three

      This week we're discussing poetic intertextuality—how intertextuality works and how we consider it.

    • Literary conversations

      How do poets talk to other texts? What do they say when they do? In this activity, you'll have the chance to trace the intertexts of a poem, and hear from experts on their favourite poetic conversations.

    • Poetry in translation

      Do you read poetry in translation? Reading and writing poetry is all about being attentive to language—and so is translating it. In this activity, you'll hear from our experts on why and how you should read poetry in translation.

    • Poetry and ekphrasis

      How do poets talk to visual art? In this activity, you'll learn about the technique of ekphrasis, and get a chance to analyse a paired poem and painting.

    • Summing up

      Summing up what we have covered this week, and suggesting ways to take your thinking further.

  • Week 4

    Writing (about) Poetry

    • Introduction to Week Four

      In our final week, we're turning to writing about poetry. Now we know how to read poetry, how do we write about it?

    • How to write about poetry

      In this activity, you'll have a chance to reflect on how you go about writing about poetry, and hear some advice from poetry scholars.

    • Writers on poetry

      How do poets and critics write about poetry? We look at three case studies, and you'll have a chance to do some of your own research.

    • Useful poetry

      Is poetry 'useful'? How and why do we use it? You'll hear from writers and academics about how they approach poetry, and share your own ideas.

    • Creative exercise

      Try your hand at writing poetry. Our Writer in Residence Vahni Capildeo will talk you through the nuts and bolts of writing your own poetry.

    • Final thoughts

      Summing up what we have covered this week and on the course as a whole, and suggesting ways to take your thinking further.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

If you'd like to take part while our educators are leading the course, they'll be joining the discussions, in the comments, between these dates:

  • 1 Jul 2024 - 28 Jul 2024

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify different poetic forms, techniques and genres
  • Debate how poems create their effects, and describe how a given poem works in a way that is effective, accessible and compelling
  • Engage with some key critical and theoretical arguments about poetry, intertextuality and literature
  • Reflect on the social and cultural dynamics that inform poems and inspire and influence poets
  • Develop an understanding of the place of contemporary poetry in a long poetic tradition
  • Apply these insights to improve and develop your own critical and creative writing, if you wish to do so

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for poetry and literature lovers everywhere and anyone who wants to develop and expand their writing skills.

It is suitable for keen poetry readers as well as those just getting started on their journey.

The course will be especially useful for A-level (and equivalent) students who want to know what it’s like to study English at a university level.

Who will you learn with?

I'm Head of the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, and a Professor of Renaissance Literature. I'm fascinated by all aspects of the study of literature.

I am a Lecturer in Contemporary Literature in the Department of English and Related Literature at York, and a widely published critic on contemporary writing and visual culture.

Hi, I'm Roseanna and I'm a PhD student at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies/School of English at York!

Who developed the course?

University of York

The University of York combines the pursuit of academic excellence with a culture of inclusion, which encourages everyone – from a variety of backgrounds – to achieve their best.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 18 Jul 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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