Techniques For Reading Poetry Aloud

Poetry is one of the hardest forms of literature to read aloud. Every poem has its own rhythm, can contain rhyme, and often uses fragments or phrases to form lines (which is drastically different from the complete sentences which people have a familiarity). Therefore, interpreting how to read a line of poetry is unique from interpreting how to read a line of prose. However, there are some essential techniques to master in order to even being uttering verse aloud. The following tactics are the foundation for performing poetry well.

Understand the Language

There is nothing worse than listening to a Poetry performance where the reader lacks conviction of the piece. Belief in the message alone is not enough. Understanding the very words of the poem is crucial. How can a performer properly interpret and express the needed emotion without fully grasping what the text means? And if there is any doubt or confusion there is also the chance of it appearing on the performer's face. Thus, if there are any words which are confusing or not understood, grab a dictionary and figure out the definition.

Read Slowly

This is true for any type of public speaking. People often rush through a speech when in front of others due to nervousness. This is a flaw that should never enter into a Poetry piece. A competitor should constantly remember to breath, relax, and remind themselves that what is often considered an average pace while speaking is typically too fast. This is particularly true when speaking in verse. The audience has to be given time to interpret and internalize, and with a form of literature that is different than prose (familiar and similar to how people speak) slightly more time might be required. Be vigilant and listen to the verse being delivered and ask “is this too quick?” The best way to get timing regulated is to practice with a coach, or another set of ears, and ask for criticism.

Find a Rhythm Through Punctuation

Every poem has a specific meter which the poet has instilled with every foot, through every line, and in every stanza of the piece. There is a rhythm embedded within the poem that becomes unleashed when read aloud. Poets understand the musicality of language. How words, when carefully combined, can heighten the beauty or beastliness of a work. The secret to discovering the poem’s rhythm is to simply read it out loud; as a poem is meant to be read. As one reads they will take notice of punctuation. This is a natural occurrence, one we are trained for as punctuation is essentially rules for written language. Anyway, by adhering to every pause (periods, commas, semi-colons, colons, line breaks, hyphen, ellipsis, etc.) and not stopping in the middle of a long string of words, a poem’s rhythm is found. Give appropriate weight, or non-weight, to the punctuation (such as a comma having a longer pause than perhaps an ellipsis or colon) and rhythm will become apparent.


Understanding what a poem means is critical for understanding how to read it aloud. Look at the language, style, diction, punctuation, author’s intent, historical context and more to decipher what the poem means. When the verse holds some message and meaning to a performer then it can be read with some feeling. No interpretation means a shallow presentation of poetry, for how can a reader convey emotion without knowing what the poem means?

Avoid Being Monotonously Melodic

Though poetry comes with a built in rhythm, this does not mean a reader is exempt from being trapped in the mode of reciting in a sing-song style. Meaning: the vocal interpretation of the piece can become predictable and void of feeling. Often, poems which rely on rhyme are the perpetrators for creating a repeated flow. When this happens sometimes readers get caught and find it hard to escape the monotony. Try. A Poetry selection that becomes encased with the same tempo, tone, rhythm, etc. becomes increasingly boring with every meter.

Awareness and eventual mastery of these elementary techniques are indispensable for becoming a terrific Poetry reader. Obviously these are a launching point for growth. However, without understanding these basics any potential is smothered. Learn the critical parts to Poetry to place well, and then more depth is obtainable for an even higher level of skill and rank.