Read Poems Aloud Like a Pro: 5 Proven Tactics

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Here’s how to read a poem out loud in 5 actionable steps:

  • #1 Practice in front of a mirror first
  • #2 Try to feel the rhythm
  • #3 Look up anything you aren’t sure about
  • #4 Try to sound natural
  • #5 Get into character

So if deciphering the way to expressively read poems is on your agenda, this article is meant for you.

Keep reading!

Read Poems Aloud Like a Pro: 5 Proven Tactics (Actionable)

Reading a Poem Out Loud (5 Steps)

Young woman in eyeglasses reading book while sitting.

Poetry as a medium began long before literacy was a widespread ability.

So it should come as no surprise that poems started as an entirely oral tradition. 

Generations of poets would memorize stories, using techniques like rhyme and repetition to make them easier to remember and more entertaining for the audience, before passing them down to the next generation.

Many of the techniques that made poetry so popular in times long past have persisted in our written poetry to this very day. 

Even poems designed with quiet reading in mind frequently use rhyme schemes, refrains, and phonetic techniques to improve the poem’s quality.

Of course, it’s also just more fun for most people to hear something in a human voice than it is to read it.

This is why some people choose to perform and attend live poetry readings even now.

It keeps old traditions alive, captures the ears and imaginations of the listeners, and adds a dose of human character to the poem itself.

Unfortunately, a fear of public speaking is extremely common in our time.

As a result, many may find themselves unwilling to read a poem to others without a little encouragement.

Let’s see if we can get you past those fears with a few simple tips on reading poetry aloud.

#1 Practice in Front of a Mirror First

Young woman practicing speaking in front of a mirror

If you have any time alone with the poem before the reading, use it to get used to the poem.

Try practicing in front of a mirror for a bit to see how it feels. 

Even if you’re not given enough time to analyze a poem before putting on a performance, at least try reading it to yourself once first if you have a chance.

This practice run will greatly assist you in finding words or phrases that might be trouble for you.

During your practice runs, try to smooth out any nervous tics you may have.

If you’re prone to speaking quickly when you’re nervous, then force yourself to read the poem slowly and with weight. 

If you tend to speak quietly in front of a crowd, read the poem to yourself in a booming voice.

Getting this practice in will make it easier to speak slowly and clearly when it’s time for the actual performance.

#2 Try to Feel Out the Rhythm

Pretty smiling young woman reading a book comfortably on a sofa at home.

Many poems are meant to be read to a certain beat.

This can vary depending on the poem’s meter or even depending on the habits of the writer in some instances. 

Try reading the poem a few different ways to see if one beat feels more “right” than others.

This will be significantly easier if the poem is metered or features a rhyme scheme, but you may have to improvise the beat that feels best to your ears with free verse.

If you’re reading a famous poem, it may be wise to read some notes about it online quickly.

This may reveal subtle patterns that you didn’t immediately notice.

#3 Look Up Anything You Aren’t Sure About

Young beautiful woman researching on a laptop.

There’s no shame in admitting to yourself that you don’t understand a certain word or phrase.

It could be that you’ve only ever seen a certain word written and don’t know how to pronounce it. 

Or perhaps there’s a line in the poem that feels like it might be referencing another work.

We live in an age of search engines and vast easy-to-access resources, so don’t be afraid to look a few things up here and there.

If you’re feeling especially studious, you might even research the writer to see if there’s anything about their backstory that stands out to you. 

Knowing about the beliefs or the poet’s origins may help you get into their head a bit, allowing you a better sense of why they wrote the poem or who they were really speaking to with their writing.

Of course, this degree of dedication is usually overkill, so it’s up to you how deep you want this rabbit hole to go.

#4 Try to Sound Natural

Beautiful young woman with glasses using laptop reading, while doing hand gestures.

This will naturally be easier if you do a few practice runs.

Pay close attention to the punctuation and treat it like a set of directions.

Pause at the commas and periods but read smoothly until you reach a natural stopping point in the sentence.

Take special note of where the line breaks are.

A skilled poet will usually imbue some purpose into his or her line breaks, so look for the meaning in those ending words. 

Should you pause at the end of a certain line for emphasis, or should you quickly flow into the next one with a dramatic flourish?

Use your own best judgment.

Also, note that writers may occasionally include too much or too little punctuation to make a poem look interesting on the page, so don’t be afraid to make your own changes to the flow if you feel that something’s gone wrong.

Your reading is allowed to be your own interpretation of the poem.

#5 Get Into Character

Pensive relaxed woman reading a book at home, drinking coffee sitting on the couch.

While you could just do a dry, scholarly reading of a poem and let that be the end of it, that sure does sound boring.

Poems were originally meant to be performed with heart, for fun. Don’t get bogged down by academic expectations.

Think of how the character portrayed in the poem would speak.

Is the speaker a melodramatic ex-lover who would grip dramatically at any nearby props?

Perhaps the speaker is an impoverished farmer who suddenly won the lottery and is energetic for the first time in years.

Allow yourself to enjoy the performance and put on a show.

Many well-meaning teachers and professors may try to convince you that literature is all about meanings and morality and blah, blah, but I can assure you that it all started with a desire to make people smile.

So please tap into that and enjoy your reading.

That’s the best thing you can do for your audience and the poem.