Structure of Modern and Post Modern Poetry | Critical Studies

Structure of Modern and Post Modern Poetry | Critical Studies

  • Free Verse

    Although there are countless exceptions, most modern and post modern poetry is written in free verse. Some poets have explained that free verse, despite its freedom, must still display some elements of form. T. S. Eliot wrote: ‘No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.’

    Some poets have considered free verse restrictive in its own way. Robert Frost later remarked that writing free verse was like ‘playing tennis without a net’.

    Free verse is a form of poetry which generally refrains from meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern. However, the sound of words is still a big consideration, with alliteration and assonance still on the agenda. Line breaks and the physical structure of free verse poems are often experimented with.

    Metaphor and diction are obviously the major elements of free-verse poetry, but sometimes the occasional rhyme or para-rhyme is used, and lines may well have a syllabic rhythm that is employed and broken at different intervals, although these are the exception rather than the rule.

  • What is the title?

    The title is very significant. It should help point you in the direction of the theme of the poem. Look to see if words in the title are repeated elsewhere in the poem of Modern Poetry.

  • How many stanzas does it have?

    Like paragraphs, a new stanza is used every time the poet introduces a new thought or feeling. If there is only one big long stanza, then there must only be one idea or the ideas are all connected and run together.

  • Are there the same number of lines in each stanza?

    If there is a pattern then the poet has a structured or traditional way of thinking. If there are odd numbers of lines this might tell you that the poet is more modern or is trying to explore a non-traditional idea of Modern Poetry.

  • Does the poem rhyme?

    Put an A beside the first line, and another A beside any line that rhymes. Put a B beside the next different line, and another B beside the next line that rhymes with this line. Keep using all the letters of the alphabet until you have discovered the rhyming pattern.

    You can quote rhyming patterns in exams by saying “It has an ABAB rhyming pattern” as a technique. If none of the lines rhyme, you may refer to the poem as a “free-verse” poem.

  • Does the poem have a rhythm?

    Count the syllables in each line and see if there is a pattern. For instance, even in non-rhyming poems, the first line might have 8 syllables, the next 6, the third 8 again, and the final line might have 4 syllables. If this pattern repeats in the next stanza, you know the author has done this on purpose of Modern Poetry.

    Where the stressed beats fall will emphasise certain words that are important to the poem. Its often easier to figure out rhythm patterns by reading the poem out loud.  Also keep in mind that poets are not always severe about their structure – there might be a few stanzas that don’t quite match the overall pattern.

  • Does the poem have run on lines?

    The correct techniques name for a run-on line is an enjambment – you should use this term from now on. Enjambments are when one sentence is broken half way through a line and continued on the next line.

    This can give the poem a feel of movement or like it is droning on, or alternatively it can be used to emphasise whichever word got left stuck out alone on the previous line.


  • What is the grammar and punctuation like?

    Poems which don’t capitalise the start of sentences or titles are most likely modern poems. It is also worth seeing if they bother using full stops or commas or semi-colons at the end of the poetry lines. This will show you how traditional or non-traditional they are.

  • Is it written in first, second, third person, or a mixture?

    Sometimes a poet is writing from their own point of view. Sometimes, they are pretending to be a persona or character speaking. Sometimes, a poem is constructed from dialogue, as though one or more people are talking – this is called a conversational poem.

    Sometimes a poet may be telling us a story about someone or something else – this is a narrative poem. And sometimes, the poem is fractured or fragmented and there doesn’t seem to be any complete ideas or sentences. These ones are often the hardest to understand.

  • Can you figure out the time period from the language used?

    Some words might give the time period of the poem away. Words like ‘ere’ and ‘thither’ are likely to be from poems more than 100 years old – maybe a Renaissance or Victorian or Romantic poem. If the language seems rather proper and formal, and there are a few words you don’t know, but the rest of the poem makes sense of Modern Poetry, you’re probably looking at a poem from about the 1900s.

    If the poem is modern and fragmented with no capitalisation it is probably from after the 1950s. If you already know the date the poem you’re studying was written, it will be very helpful to look that period of poetry up on Wikipedia because poetry has very distinctive styles and rules that correspond to the time they were made.

    These rules, ideas and styles will help you to make sense of what the poem is trying to say.


  • Are any words or phrases repeated?

    Words which are included more than once are often significant. Try and figure out what the word means to the poet. Repetition is either used to emphasise a word, or to create a sense of rhythm, or to take a word that has been previously used elsewhere in the poem and to associate it with a new meaning. Check for sound devices like alliteration and assonance too.

  • What does the poem literally say?

    Try and figure out what is happening in the poem on the basic level. For a narrative poem this will be easy – for a fragmented poem it might be quite difficult. You might only get: ‘A man is sad and is talking about the ocean’ but that’s okay for a start.

  • What imagery is used?

    Almost all poetry uses some imagery. Check for symbolism, metaphors, similes and personification as they are the most common. Look at the choice of adjectives. See if there is a pattern to the imagery. Are they all natural images? Dark images?

    Often the imagery will reveal a second layer of meaning. Figuring out what the imagery means is the puzzle.

  • If you get really stuck, ask yourself: What does it make me think of?

    Look at individual keywords. If you don’t really understand the point of the poem, but you see words like “ironing board” “clothesline” and “curtains” you might at least think this sounds like a suburban house, maybe from the point of view of a stay-at-home mum.

    This is called looking for connotations – which is a great technique term to use when you’re not exactly sure what the technique is.

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