Writing a review of a poetry book is similar to writing a review of a fictional or a nonfictional book because you must analyze themes, genre, figures of speech and cultural context. However, you must also stress elements unique to poetry, such as rhyme and meter. Focus on a few key points and make it clear how you feel about the poetry selections after evaluating the content with a critical eye. Because poems have deep underlying messages and often serve as analogies of important life events, address reasons why the author likely wrote the poems.
Central Themes and Important Messages
Look for common themes and messages throughout the poetry selections. Answer questions, such as "Does the author write about specific subjects?" "Can readers relate to the major themes?" "How do the poems address and resolve conflicts?" and "What is the author's attitude concerning the subject matter?" William Harmon, a professor at the University of North Carolina, suggests starting your review by explaining the overriding conflicts, arguments or messages in the poems. Include in the introduction your interpretation of the author's purpose for writing the poems and state whether you think she successfully gets her message across.
Analyze the form of the poems and explain whether they follow similar patterns of rhyme, meter and order. Address questions such as "Does the content in each poem flow smoothly, and is it broken down into readable stanzas or sonnets?" "Is there a logical progression of thoughts and ideas?" and "Does the word choice support the genre?" For example, some poems read like epic tales, such as Homer's "Iliad," and others read like existential journal entries, such as Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." Address details specific to the poetry, such as the author's use of iambic pentameter, alliteration or onomatopoeia.
Figures of Speech
Point out the author's recurring use of figures of speech, such as metaphors, similes, personification or irony. These literary devices help readers understand deep concepts without the author needing to explain them. Select two or three poems from the book and focus on the author's literary style. Answer questions, such as "Does the author use metaphors to reveal greater truths?" or "How does the author use irony to make his point about an important life event, such as death?" For example, Edgar Allan Poe uses a bird's impending departure as a metaphor to explain the narrator's fleeting hopes in the poem "The Raven." State whether you think the author's choice of figurative language works well in his poetry.
Evaluate the historical and cultural context behind the poetry to establish the author's credibility. For example, the poems might have underlying themes of anger or hostility if they were written during times of war. Or, they might have messages of sadness, fear and isolation if communicable diseases had just wiped out part of the population. This part of your poetry book review requires research because you must provide enough background information and back story about the author to support your analysis.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.