Teaching Poetry as Music: An Audio Assignment

Note: This assignment is designed to have students engage with poems as sound. By recording poems being read aloud students can be immersed in the auditory nature of poems’ rhythm, word sounds, and other musical qualities, such as rest and acceleration. The relationship between sound and meaning are also explored. Model poems I have used for this assignment are available online, have good musical values and interesting subject matter. Poems I’ve used have included:

“My Papa’s Waltz” – Theodore Roethke
“if there are any heavens” – e.e. cummings
“Poem #340, I Felt a Funeral in my Brain” – Emily Dickinson
“The Journey” – Mary Oliver (From New & Selected Poems)

Note to Students

All these poems have beautiful music which reward reading. Poems have to be read aloud to fully appreciate the music poets craft out of the English language. So we want to hear your voices!


Choose one of the model poems to work on.

First, read the poem to yourself a couple of times. Then, practice reading it aloud several times, paying attention to words and phrases you want to emphasize in each line – that is, which words and phrases seem to need more weight or emphasis? How fast or slow do the lines feel? Do they seem to speed up or slow down? What will you do at the end of a line if it enjambed – read right across? What if it is end-stopped? Will you pause?

When you have decided how you want to read the poem, make an audio recording of the poem. Add some introductory information, for example, “This is a recording of me reading [poem] [by]”. Post it to the assignment.

Finish your assignment by responding to the following reflective prompts. Please include the prompts above your answers:

  • Did the poem seem to be any different when reading to yourself and reading it aloud? In what ways?
  • Did reading the poem aloud help with understanding it? If so, why do you think so? If not, why do you think not?
  • What did reading the poem aloud cause you to notice about the poem in terms of its use of words, syntax, lines, stanzas, and line endings?
  • Are there places the poem seems to want to speed up or slow down? Are there words that should be said more slowly?
  • What feelings and thoughts did this poem create in you, as a reader and an audience?

Thanks for your insights! Remember: Apply your new terminology.

We will play your audio files and discuss your answers to the reflective prompts.

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

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