Evaluating Poetry With Confidence: Clearing Up 5+ Common Questions

Poetry is also one of those things that everyone thinks they understand, but few actually do; We all enjoy it somehow, but none of us really understands what makes a poem work or not work. 

I’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about evaluating poetry. Hopefully, this article provides a little more context about the inner workings of great literature.

Table of Contents

How do you evaluate a good poem?

The two most essential elements of evaluating poetry are Content and Form. The first is content; how does this piece speak to us, and why do we consider it important enough for people to read in the first place? The second is form; how does this poem tell its story, and what makes it unique from the other poems out there.

There are infinite ways to evaluate a poem, but these 9 steps present a strong foundation for you to build on as you expose yourself to more poetry.

Step One- Read:  This is the most crucial step to evaluating poetry. You need to read every line of the poem carefully and without any distractions so that you can truly understand what it’s trying to tell you.


Step Two- Textual evidence: Look for imagery, tone or any other elements that you think are important in the poem and highlight them, so they stand out more clearly.


Step Three- Title:  It’s essential to understand what the poem is about and why it’s called that. The title can help paint a broader picture for you, but don’t rely on it too much, as poems with misleading titles are common and should be taken into account as well.


Step Four- Author: You now have all of your evidence; look at who the author is and their background to get more of an insight into why they may have written this poem in the first place.


Step Five- Historical context: This helps you understand how the world was like when it was published, what social issues were affecting people at that time and whether these things are essential for understanding the piece itself.


Step Six- Theme:   Once you’ve got an idea of what the poem is saying, it’s time to look at why. What does this piece tell us about life or society? How can we relate that back to our own lives and experiences?


Step Seven- Vocabulary: This may not be something everyone looks for in a poem but if you feel like certain words or images don’t make sense, look them up to see whether they add something important to the poem.


Step Eight- Paraphrase:   It’s now time to sum up the poem in your own words. Can you do a good job summarizing what it is trying to say?


Step Nine- Analysis: Now look at all the information and ask yourself, ‘was this a successful piece?’


What makes a poem difficult to understand?

One way to answer this question is by looking at what makes a poem difficult for readers. For example, some poems might be hard to understand because they use figurative language that may not make sense or you haven’t learned about before. In contrast, others are more complicated due to the poetic devices used and how many there are.


Other poems might be challenging because they reference certain historical events or aspects of literature that you may not know about.

There are many different reasons why a poem can be hard to understand, but one thing is for sure: if you want your readers to fully grasp what you’re trying to convey, then keep things simple and avoid overly complex devices.

What is a critical response to a poem?

Critical response is an explanation of a poem’s use of literary techniques and devices. It is a piece of writing that analyzes how language, structure, imagery and tone have been employed to affect the reader. It also examines the different ways in which each literary device contributes to or enhances this effect.


The critical response can include an interpretation of what has happened in the poem, including its moral implications about life itself. It also includes an analysis of the way each device has contributed to this interpretation.


Critical response is not a summary, although it may contain commentary on characters and plot developments. It does not comment on whether or not you like something, nor does it suggest how someone else should interpret the poem’s meaning.


Critical responses often include a thesis statement so that a reader can quickly see what the essay is about.


It also helps to think about whether the poem should be read in a particular way. Some poems are designed to be ironic or humorous, and you must decide if the poet successfully achieved this effect.

A critical response can also include evaluating what other critics have said about the work under review, although such criticism might not always help your own understanding of it.

How are poems judged in poetry slam?

Poems are typically judged based on four different categories: performance, content, language and structure on a scale between one and ten. The poet is not compared to any other poet but rather judged independently on a predetermined scale.

What are the criteria for judging poetry?

The main criteria for judging poetry include performance, content, language and structure.

Performance is based on how well the poem comes off to a listener. How clearly are the words enunciated? Are they slurred together or distinct from each other? Is there any background noise that may be distracting? Does the poet have an exciting stage presence, and if so, what kind of attention do they command while performing their piece?

Content is the most subjective of all four categories. This category revolves around whether or not you like what they are saying and how well it appeals to your own personal experiences.

Language refers to words that may be misused, too many cliches in a poem, neologisms (newly-coined words), overuse of slang or jargon, or just plain wrong grammar.

Structure is easier to judge because it has more concrete rules. There are two main divisions in this category: how well the poem flows from line to line and the overall organization of ideas within the piece.

Every Judge has their own opinion on poetry and how it should be judged, so there is no right or wrong answer. But judges will often agree on a standard scoring system before a competition or slam to enforce some degree of uniformity.


Evaluating poetry can help you understand what the poet was trying to communicate and where their work deviates from conventional writing practices. With this knowledge, poets are better equipped with identifying strengths and weaknesses to improve upon techniques that don’t resonate well with a particular audience. We hope you found this article informative, happy writing everyone!

Browse Collections By Category

Select from our entire catalogue of poetry collections: