How to Interpret Poetry Mechanics
Mechanics are a classic element of poetry. Some writers religiously work with them, and others create poetry that oppose what they stand for. Readers who understand what mechanics are, and who know how to spot them, may find it easier to grasp what a poem means. Poetical mechanics also feature historical ramifications that are important to consider; several poets have in fact become associated with a particular mechanism. Regardless, readers should be on guard not to handle mechanics too meticulously.
Recognize mechanisms when you encounter them. Rhyme, which occurs when the end of two words sound similar, and rhythm, a pattern of pulses either regular or irregular, are common poetic mechanisms. Related to these is meter, the organization of words in specific measurements; poems written with specific meters are composed in the "blank verse" style. The iamb is a common foot (or type) of meter, in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one. Pauses also feature as frequently used mechanics. Being on the lookout for devices like these will enable you to better understand and interpret their use.
Contemplate the purpose of the mechanism in a given line, or throughout the poem. Poets can use rhyme, meter, or pauses to draw meaning via the accenting of certain sounds, syllables or words. The rhythm of a poem itself, without even attending to the literal words, can convey particular emotions and elicit responses from the reader. Classic poetry regularly utilized mechanics, which became known as an essential component of the art form. However, 20th-century poets began to reject a strict adherence to mechanics and preferred to write in "free verse," liberated from traditional patterns. Knowing the emotional or historical intentions behind the use, or rejection, of mechanics can enlighten your viewpoint on a poem and make interpreting it easier.
Consider how a writer may be linked with his or her use of a particular mechanism. Shakespeare, for instance, would often use rhyming couplets; he would do so for entire poems or speeches to create a melodic effect, and sometimes he'd reserve a couplet for the end of a work to call his readers' attention to an important point. E.E. Cummings, a "free verse" poet, also employed rhyme and rhythm in his work, frequently in the sonnet form. When you can track a mechanism as one of a poet's signature traits, you can better analyze viewpoint and style throughout his or her entire body of work.
Avoid obsessing over mechanics. Poems are designed to prompt thought and contemplation, not excessive analysis. Read a work once or twice as you concentrate on scouting for meter and rhyme, for instance, but refrain from devoting your experience of a poem to those devices exclusively. Instead, focus on the holistic impact of mechanics on the poem, and then on the poem's impact on you.
Jeffrey Norman has been writing professionally since 2005. His work has been published in such journals as the "Leland Quarterly" and on the blog, An Apple A Day. Norman earned a Bachelor of Arts in literature and creative writing from Stanford University.