Dive In

These poems each have a set of guided questions, related videos that allow for deeper investigation, and suggested writing activities. We‘ll be adding more poems to this list soon!
 

Dive In

  1. What perspective does the poet use to write this sketch of a father and son? For example, is it in the first person, second person, or third person? What does this choice suggest about the relationship between the two characters in the poem?
  2. How does the poet achieve a sense of intimacy and understanding across distance and time? How does imagery and sensory detail help us understand the character of the father?
  3. What does the father do for a living? What are the tensions between the father’s physical body, his work, and the landscape? What else do we learn...
  1. This poem references the French poet, artist, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, so understanding a bit about his work will deepen your understanding of the poem. How does the speaker seem to feel about Cocteau?
  2. Looking closely at the poem’s structure and images, in what ways does the poet invoke a sense of doubleness?
  3. What does the poet suggest about the power of the imagination? And about the relationship between a reader and writer?
  4. How would you describe the mood of this poem?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you convey...

  1. What kind of “magic” is happening in this poem?
  2. This poem has many vivid similes (a comparison using "like" or "as") and metaphors (a comparison that doesn't use "like" or "as"). Is there one that stands out to you? Why that one?
  3. The poet chose to use the second person in this poem. What effect does that have on your reading of the poem? How would your experience of the poem change if it were written in the third person?
  4. Who is the speaker in this poem? What do we know about them? Do you think they're...
  1. This is a funny poem, but some of the jokes won’t land if you don’t catch the references. For example, what does “emeritus” mean? And how does that word work alongside titles like  “Ingenue” or “Good Samaritan”? If any of the terms are unfamiliar, look them up!
  2. What’s the tone of this poem? Where are there hints that there are some dark shadows behind the laughs? Do you read it as snide or sad? Or both?
  3. This poem uses a lot of multi-syllabic words — how does this affect the rhythm and feel of the poem?
  4. “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a famous poem...

  1. What is the mood of the speaker?
  2. What does the word echolalia mean? How might this relate to the poem?
  3. Repetition with variation is an important technique in music and poetry, but it is also a powerful tool in advertising. The speaker of the poem is very persuasive — are you persuaded?
  4. This poem is taken from Ian Williams’ book Personals, which plays with the form of personal ads. Do you think the voice of this poem is speaking from a position of vulnerability or strength?
  5. ...
  1. What do you notice about how the poem is put together? What kinds of stanzas does the poet use, for example? What kinds of poetic strategies does she use? And how does the shape and form of the poem connect to its content?
  2. It’s helpful to know that this poem is from a book called Ocean in which all of the poems are about the ocean and each poem has a number rather than its own title. In this poem, what is the relationship between the ocean and the people who live at its edge?
  3. How is the ocean portrayed?
  4. Make a list of all the things the...
  1. The action of the poem is mysterious, but the atmosphere of expectation and mythic possibility is strong. What is the speaker saying about the tension between the natural world and the human world of consumerism and waste?
  2. In the first stanza, the speaker invokes something to be born and a sense of motion is initiated, moving up from the ocean floor. How does this set the tone for the poem?
  3. The final stanza describes an equinox ritual where people write things they want to release onto paper and burn the paper in a fire. Does this feel like a contemporary...
  1. Who is speaking in this poem? Where is the speaker located?
  2. What is the mood of the speaker?
  3. Do you think the speaker is having a conversation with another person or is he or she speaking essentially to him- or herself? What in the poem supports your interpretation?
  4. What do you learn about the speaker as you move through the poem?
  5. What do you think the inclusion, towards the end of the poem, of the notation “[inaudible]” suggests? Could this be a transcript of a recording, rather than something happening in real time? If this is a...
  1. How does the shape of each stanza recall a postcard?
  2. The first two “postcards” are addressed to personified abstractions (Regret, Time), but then the following three arrive without an address, as if it doesn’t matter who receives them, only that they are sent out. What does this say about the speaker of the poem?
  3. What do associate with postcards? What does this suggest about the speaker in the poem?
  4. What are the poems reporting?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you handle the rich, rhythmic language? Where would you...
  1. This excerpt is from a book-length poem called Eunoia that has five chapters, each one corresponding to a single vowel. (Eunoia is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels.) What does “eunoia” mean? What do you think the relationship is between the word eunoia and the experiment of this book?
  2. Note that all of the words in this excerpt feature words that only contain the vowel I. What is the effect of hearing the same vowel sound repeated over and over? Do you feel that the vowel has a kind of personality of its own? If so how...

  1. What do we know about the two people having a conversation in this poem?
  2. What do we know about the person they are describing?
  3. How would you characterize the relationship of the two people talking? Close? Strained? Loving? Guarded?
  4. What tone do you feel in the poem? Does it change?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you indicate the shifts back and forth between two voices?
  6. Write a poem that is a dialogue between two people that runs together so that the reader...

  1. How does the speaker feel about the city?
  2. How are similes — “innocent as thresholds / and smashed night birds, lovesick, / as empty elevators” — used throughout to set the atmosphere of the poem?
  3. How does the poem portray the non-human life in the city — animals, even inanimate objects?
  4. The speaker wonders “would I have had a different life” if she hadn’t identified so closely with “broken things.” What do you think?
  5. If you were reciting this poem, what tone would you use? What does it mean...
  1. What is happening in this poem? Who or what is saying "Hello"?
  2. The poet has created striking snapshots throughout the poem with his choices of imagery and language. Which one is most striking to you? Why?
  3. What does the poem's title, "Hail," make you think of?
  4. How would you describe the mood of the poem? Does that mood shift anywhere?
  5. If you were reciting this poem, how would you handle its short lines, commas, and periods? Where and how long would you pause?
  6. Consider a complex issue, like climate change, fast fashion, or...
  1. This poem is addressed to an old friend or former love — we don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but we do sense the intimacy between them. What does the poem tell you about the speaker’s feelings for the person to whom he is speaking? (Presumably Kristen Lems, as Berrigan dedicated the poem to her.)
  2. Where is the speaker now? Where does he live? What details about the speaker’s life and interests does the poem tell you
  3. The poet says “Knew of it first / in New York City. Couldn’t find it / in Ann Arbor, though / I like it...
  1. Who is the speaker in this poem? What do we know about them?
  2. What does the refrain make you think of: “paint the picture in your hand / nd roll on home.”?
  3. What rhyming pattern has the poet created? How does that shape your reading of the poem?
  4. How would you describe the mood of this poem?
  5. If you were reciting this poem, how would you handle its rhythm and rhyme? (It would be very easy to fall into a sing-song delivery.)
  6. Write a poem that includes a refrain. As a variation, use the refrain or two other lines from “howlin at...
  1. What is the mood of the speaker in this poem?
  2. What is the speaker’s relationship to friends and family?
  3. Where does the tone of the poem shift?
  4. At the end of the poem, what is it that seems to bring the speaker a sense of comfort and even transcendent freedom?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you convey the shift in tone? Where would you pause or change the pace of your reading? How would you avoid falling into a sing-song pattern on the couplets that close the second and third stanzas?
  6. John Clare wrote this...

  1. In our Q&A with Leanne Simpson, she explains that she wrote this poem because, “I was watching the closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I felt angry, not reconciled”  How do you feel the poem transforms that anger?
  2. How is the image of graffiti used in this poem?
  3. How does the poem suggest resilience and survival in the face of attempted erasure?
  4. How does the poet use repetition to suggest a continual re-emergence of the self?
  5. Do you feel that the mood of the poem is the...
  1. What’s the mood of the speaker? Does it shift before the poem ends? Where?
  2. How does sound appear throughout the poem? What are your associations with drums? What about bells?
  3. There are different interpretations of what is happening in this poem — what’s your take? Do you think the experience the speaker describes sounds terrible or exciting?
  4. In what ways is this poem about a connection to something mysterious? In what ways does it seem to be about the rupture of connection?
  5. Do you think this poem says more about death or life?
  6. ...

  1. What do you think the opening lines “If this brain’s over-tempered / consider that the fire was want / and the hammers were fists.” suggest about the experiences lived by the speaker?
  2. When the speaker says “I’ve tasted my blood too much / to abide what I was born to,” what do you think the speaker can’t abide?
  3. Why do you think the speaker's mother is mentioned? How does that stanza relate to the rest of the poem?
  4. Where is repetition used? What effect does that have on the mood of the poem?
  5. If...
  1. The poem mixes Cree words and their translations with descriptions of ceremonies “that cannot be translated.” What do you think gets lost in the translation from one language to another?
  2. How does the poet use repetition in this poem? What’s the effect?
  3. How does the speaker use natural imagery to celebrate his love?
  4. In what ways does the poet invoke sensual imagery in the poem?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what kind of pause would you place between the words in Cree and their translations? Would you use another tone of voice...
  1. In video footage of Alice Notley reading this poem at The Poetry Project at St Marks Church in the Bowery in New York City in the early 80s (an outtake from Canadian director Ron Mann’s fantastic documentary Poetry in Motion; a clip below is available on Youtube), the poet explains before reading the poem, “The Jack is Jack Kerouac and the Alice is Alice Notley.” How does knowing that this poem is about the writer Jack Kerouac, credited with coining the term “Beat generation,” change the meaning of the poem for you as a reader?
  2. How does the poet challenge...

  1. How does the structure of a mixed tape work to tell this poem’s story?
  2. How does “side a” differ in tone from “side b”?
  3. What images does the poet use to capture the cold atmosphere following the brother’s disappearance?
  4. How are the relationships among the family members described?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you voice its short lines? Where and for how long would you pause?
  6. Write a poem using song titles to tell a story.

Useful Links...

  1. What is the story in this poem? Who is telling the story?
  2. How does the poem’s structure mimic the speeding circular movement of a stunt motorcyclist riding up and around the inside of a barrel? (Hint: look for the use of repetition, etc.)
  3. How is sound used in the poem?
  4. The title suggests that the speaker is describing events from the past, and yet there are moments where the language shifts to present tense (“You enter”, “This is insane”) — how does this change the mood of the poem? What does it say about the speaker’s relationship to the past?...
  1. What is happening in this poem? Who does it happen to?
  2. What does this poem suggest about the lives of the men who are performing this dangerous job?
  3. How does the image of the pure white seal skins at the beginning of the poem contrast to the grisly details of the men’s deaths at the end?
  4. How does the poet recreate this historic tragedy in a way that makes it feel immediate and relatable?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, where would you pause for emphasis and where would you speed up? What tone would you use and where would that...

  1. This poem has a strong voice running through it. How would you describe the speaker’s mood?
  2. Look at some of the more unexpected things the speaker in the poem finds beautiful, like leaves in the gutter or salt stains on shoes. Why are these details more interesting than a more obvious example of beauty, like flowers, would be?
  3. What is the effect of the poet’s use of similes that offer more than one comparison of an image, such as “the sky, lit up like a question or / an applause meter” or “raindrops / like jewels or...
  1. Where is repetition used in this poem? Are the words repeated exactly every time? Are slight changes made?
  2. Do you think the speaker has really “got it”? What leads you to think that?
  3. Who do you think the speaker is talking to? What kind of relationship do you think they have?
  4. The poet has used tercets (stanzas of three lines). How does this affect your reading of the poem? Think of how the poem would read differently if it were written mostly with quatrains (four-line stanzas) or as a prose poem (with paragraphs).
  5. If you were going to...
  1. What does the poet suggest about the nature of celebrity by marrying together a fictional character and a dead singer?
  2. How does the poet use concrete physical details to ground this fantasy?
  3. Does the story in this poem feel innocent or sinister? Why?
  4. Do you see any connections between Victorian children’s literature and the mythology of rock and roll?
  5. Why do you think Alice and Elvis cry at night?
  6. If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you take? Would it change?
  7. Write a short poem that imagines...
  1. How does the poet use repetition and rhythm to mimic the sound of rain?
  2. Harjo uses a lot of monosyllabic words in this poem. How does this affect the way the poem feels?
  3. Circle the nouns that she uses in the poem — what do they tell you about where she is? What kind of imagery dominates?
  4. What state of mind is the speaker in?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you choose to handle the musical pattern of the lines? Where would you pause? Would you vary your rhythm or keep a steady...
  1. What does the line “Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess” suggest about the state of mind of the speaker? What would it mean to see yourself as a labyrinth?
  2. Who do you think the speaker of the poem is talking to? How does the poet demonstrate a sense of urgency through language and tone?
  3. The poem riffs off a line in the United States Declaration of Independence and is full of poetic, mysterious, and emotionally charged language. What is the effect of this contrast between the legal-sounding jargon of “in pursuit thereof” and the vulnerability in the line...
  1. What is the relationship between Richard Cory and the speaker?
  2. How does rhyme and meter move the poem forward?
  3. What does the poem suggest about envy?
  4. What does the poem suggest about privilege?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you avoid falling into a sing-song pattern?
  6. Write a poem imagining the inner sadness of a celebrity who appears on the surface to have it all.

Useful Links

 

Watch the folk duo Simon & Garfinkel sing their adaptation of this poem...

  1. How does the poet connect language to the physical world in the poem?
  2. What does “the body of the mind” suggest to you?
  3. In the lines “The worlds like an endless / four-dimensional / Game of Go”, the poet is referencing a Chinese board game that has been played for over two thousand years. Look it up and consider what the poet is saying about the worlds (note Snyder chooses the plural!). What kind of game is this?
  4. If the poet is reading the landscape, what do you think its story is?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what...
  1. If this is a self-portrait, what is the speaker saying about himself?
  2. Do you relate to this speaker, or do you distrust him?
  3. What do you think he means that he found “the sweet, the gentle” to be “awful, / dull, brutally inconsequential”?
  4. How does the speaker envision the aging process? Is his true defiance the refusal to soften as he grows older?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you use? Would it shift at all? Where?
  6. Write a poem imagining what kind of old person you would like to be.
...
  1. What is happening in this poem?
  2. What do you learn about sun bears in this poem?
  3. Compare the fact that the bear looks at the speaker “without interest” to the level of attention the speaker gives the caged bear, imagining him even after he has left the zoo. What does this contrast suggest about our relationship with the natural world?
  4. The poem moves from thinking about the bear to the news to the limitations of love itself. What is the speaker saying at the end?
  5. There is no punctuation in this poem and so it moves in a very associative...
  1. What is the mood of the speaker in this poem? What’s happening?
  2. This poem has such a strong sense of rhythm; read it out loud and then change the order of the words in the first few lines so that it’s more conversational and no longer following patterned meter. Does “made of clay and wattles” feel different than “of clay and wattles made”? How about “I’ll have nice bean-rows” instead of “Nine bean-rows will I have there”?
  3. How does the rhythm of the poem reflect the speaker’s desire for a slower life?
  4. At the end of the poem, it’s the rhythm of the...
  1. In terms of “story,” this is basically a poem about a guy being blown away by watching a bird — a small falcon called a kestrel — ride the wind. How does Hopkin’s use of language capture the fact that the speaker has experienced a moment of transcendence?
  2. What are your favourite lines or clusters of words? Why?
  3. Try replacing any of the words in these lines with another word that means the same thing? How does it change the feel of the line?
  4. What is the mood of the speaker?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you balance...
  1. How does the poet illustrate a sense of urgency in the poem? How does she describe the world?
  2. What does the speaker suggest we do in order to survive?
  3. How does the poet use the three separate sections of the poem to shift her focus of observation?
  4. Do you think this poem is essentially optimistic or pessimistic about the future of human life on this planet? Where do you feel a sense of hope in the poem?
  5. Which are your favourite lines and why?
  6. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you use your voice to reflect the...

  1. It's helpful to know that this poem is about Reena Virk. She was a teen of South Asian descent who was murdered by her peers in Saanich, British Columbia, in 1997. What part of her story is being told in this poem?
  2. How does the title inform the story? What does the word "Tide" make you think of in this context?
  3. What details from the environment are highlighted? What effect do those details have on the mood of the poem?
  4. Though a reader should never assume that a poem in the first person is written from...
  1. The poet Karen Solie grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. What does this poem tell you about the speaker’s view of farm life?
  2. It’s helpful to know that this poem was first published in The Walrus in 2008, so the line “We hope to own it outright by 2017” was looking nearly a decade into the future at the time. What do these details about the cost of the tractor suggest about the economics of farming in Canada?
  3. What is going on across the road from the farm in this poem?
  4. Do you get the sense that the tractor works for the farm or that the farm works...
  1. Who is the speaker in this poem? What has happened to her?
  2. This poem was inspired by another poem of the same name by the poet Matt Rader, in which two young men witness a man pulling a woman’s body out of the trunk of a car. In her poem, Bachinsky switches the point of view to the woman in the trunk. There is a long tradition of poems that are direct responses to other poems and in particular, poems that approach the same story but from another character’s perspective. For example, Christopher Marlowe’s romantic poem...