Close Reading: A Definition

In order to better determine how one’s consciousness has changed throughout the years—or months, sometimes, even days—this ideological-interfacing called poetry, as measured through one poem at a time, can be a rather nifty thing.


An editor should have a blog filled with grammar lessons and writing how-tos, right? As much as I get a kick out of the mechanics of language, I’ll leave that to blogs like Grammar Girl, CopyBlogger, and Arrant Pedantry – all fine resources for wordsmiths.

This space will instead document my exploration of texts through the act of writing. How language works will still be a focus, but here I’ll be applying knowledge of mechanics and other tools of writing to literary criticism.

The task of a close reading is deceptively simple: write a short, casual response to any text, using the specific wording to back up your ideas. A close reading is an intimate interaction with a poem, short story, or passage, a deeper way of reacting to writing than merely reading, an attempt at understanding why certain connections are made or emotions arise within us as we communicate with someone else’s words.

Close readings inherently communicate each person’s unique perspective of life via their understanding of language. The quote by poet Rodrigo Toscano (above) illustrates this in two ways. Primarily, any text is an imprint of the author’s consciousness at the time of writing. But this is true for readers too. We react to things based on our present states of mind, and reading – letting someone else’s ideas bounce around in our brains – can reinforce our perceptions and by doing so further define who we are.

Literary criticism is most often a sterile exercise, one in which the self of the writer and self of the reader are coldly removed. This is not traditional literary criticism. It’s important for each close reading to be rather uninhibited, open-ended, and not tied up in an overarching logical argument. Sometimes a steady line of thought sneaks in here or there, but unlike academic essays, that’s not the point. Best keep this in mind as you read (that goes double for you English majors).

Have a suggestion for a poem or short story that I should read closely? Comment here or shoot an e-mail over to

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