A poem may be read for meaning, mood, entertainment, or appreciation of the author's technical skill.

Poems may be read silently to oneself, or may be read aloud solo or to other people. Although reading aloud to oneself may raise eyebrows in many circles, this restriction is waived in the case of poetry.

Some poems lend themselves most readily to appreciation through reading aloud, such as "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This poem tells a stirring patriotic myth of American opposition to British military and political domination. The engaging tale and regular poetic meter, as well as relative lack of subtler content or form, mean that its virtues are most apparent when the work is spoken or read.

Poems can have many forms. Some are highly defined, with required line counts and rhyming patterns, such as the sonnet or limerick. Poems can have less structure or indeed almost no apparent structure at all, perhaps little of that normally apparent in ordinary prose language, such as grammar. Alexander Pope gives a well-known example of how in the best poetry, "The sound should be an echo to the sense..."

English language poetic meter depends on vocal stress, rather than the number of syllables. It thus stands in contrast to poetry in other languages, such as French, where syllabic stress is not present or recognized and syllable count is paramount.