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How Do I Improve My Poetry Vocabulary?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Students enrolled in high school or college courses are fortunate because they often have resources available to them for improving poetry vocabulary. It is a good idea to visit your school's English department to obtain vocabulary lists that focus on poetry terminology; an English teacher may also be able to provide such lists, as will a writing department or even a testing department. If you are not enrolled in school, you may want to do an Internet search for poetry vocabulary lists aimed specifically at the genre or time period of poetry you are interested in studying.

Sometimes it is necessary to improve your poetry vocabulary in preparation for an exam or test. If this is the case, the vocabulary lists will tend to be more specialized, so you should visit the English department at your school or do a search on the Internet for resources on the particular exam you intend to take. Studying these lists is a great first step toward improving your poetry vocabulary, but rote memorization will only go so far. The best way to improve your poetry vocabulary is to learn the terms and use them regularly in conversation or writing to ensure you remember the meanings of the words and understand how they are used in context.

Voracious reading is one strategy to improve poetry vocabulary.
Voracious reading is one strategy to improve poetry vocabulary.

Another great way to improve your poetry vocabulary is to simply read voraciously. If you read often, you will find the same words will occur repeatedly in various works. Write these words down and look up the definitions after you finish reading a passage. Write down these definitions, and then go back to the passage and re-read the sentences in which the words occur. This will help you understand the words in context, and it will help you remember the definition and use through repetition.

It often helps to study vocabulary with other people who are also studying this topic. Try to use the vocabulary words in conversation with study partners, and whenever possible try to quiz each other on words and definitions. If the terms you are learning refer to poetry writing techniques, try writing lines of poetry using these techniques. This will give you practical knowledge of the use of the terms, and it may also provide you with a visual cue that can help you remember the definition of the words later on. It may also help to assign an image to the words; alliteration, for example, may be remembered by picturing a long line of the letter A repeatedly written on a blackboard.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - I would argue that the absolute best way to learn something is to combine the lists of vocab with exercises so that you aren't only reading about the terms, hopefully with some context, you're also having to apply them.

Not only will this force you to really think about what they mean and how they are meant to be used, it will also leave you with a good example of what each term means that you will be able to remember all the better because you wrote it.


@irontoenail - I don't deny that it's a bad idea to do all your learning from lists of terms but I think that they definitely have their place in some circumstances.

I know that even when I hear people talking about different aspects of poetry, iambic pentameter for example, I still find it difficult to figure out what they mean from context alone.

That term in particular eluded me for years. I knew it had something to do with the way words were arranged and the way they sounded when said aloud, but I could not figure it out.

It wasn't until I read a list of vocab definitions for a poetry class that I finally clicked as to what pentameter really meant.

Sometimes you just really need to have it spelled out for you and you just have to sit down and memorize it by rote.

As long as you understand what you're reading I don't see the harm in it.


Unless you are studying for a specific test that needs to be taken very soon, I think it's a mistake to try and study with lists of vocabulary rather than try to learn the words in context.

It's just an unnatural way of learning things, in my opinion. If you read something in context, with lots of examples, you'll be able to remember it better, and you'll be reading poetry as well, which is what you should be doing rather than just learning the theory about poetry.

I would also suggest hanging out with writers who know what they're talking about. Once I started working with a group of fellow poets I had no choice but to learn what the different terms they were using meant.

And since they were always using these terms in context, expounding on a particular feature of a particular poem it was easy enough to figure out what they meant and to remember it.

In the long run it's going to be better for you to learn it in this way.

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    • Voracious reading is one strategy to improve poetry vocabulary.
      By: singkham
      Voracious reading is one strategy to improve poetry vocabulary.