Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Ways to Start Reading Poetry

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’ve recently been devoting more (read most) of my time to reading and writing poetry. While I’ve been reading for years, I consider myself a novice in the poetry world. There’s. Just. So. Much. Out. There.

I know a lot of readers don’t really know where to start with poetry. Let’s face it, poetry no longer tops most bestseller lists. Before I devoted a lot of time to poetry I might read a handful of collections a year, but there are some ways to get into the wide ocean of material a little more quickly that I’ve found helpful and you might too!

Start with Poem a Day – If you’re not sure how much time you can devote to this huge field of work, poem a day is a great place to start. You get one poem emailed to you a day, week day poems are generally chosen by a guest editor and feature a huge variety of poets from all different backgrounds in different styles. They have an audio clip for you to hear the poem spoken, a little background, and a link to the author’s book. This is a nice little daily dose. Weekends feature classic poets.

Try a poetry podcast – in the same vein, I really like the poetry podcast called The Slowdown. It’s about 5-10 minutes and is a similar daily dose of poetry.

Decide when/where to start – Poetry has been going strong for….millennia. In pretty much every country. You might think about finding poets who correspond with times and places you’re interested in or ones that you inhabit. You can learn more about a particular place and time or discover new ways of seeing your own. If you’re interested in American poetry, I think it’s helpful to start out with Dickinson and Whitman so you get the sort of baseline, but this isn’t a class and there’s no right or wrong way to get started. Start with a poet from where you live or where you want to live. Personally I like to jump around quite a bit.

Start with what you know and like – Everyone has genres that are most appealing to them and that can be comforting. There’s poetry on every subject in so many different styles. If you like an author and they also write poetry, that might be a good fit. Or maybe you love music and want to see how that’s explored in poetry. There are horror poems and western poems and romance poems. Knowing your favorite authors in prose can make it easier to find new poets.

Find an anthology – There are a lot of them out there. Some are published yearly, others cover different periods or styles. Your library is sure to have a few. Find what you like by reading a lot of different things. I find that these make great in between reading for a waiting room, a bathroom, or anytime you have a few minutes. If you buy your own copy you can underline lines you like and make notes.

Use your library – Find contemporary poets in the New Books section or take a walk through the poetry section and see what catches your eye. You can sample from different books without having to commit to anything.

Don’t worry too much about what it “means” – When you’re in school poetry is supposed to have meanings and answers. Don’t worry about not knowing what something means. Let it wash over you, and by that I mean listen to the way the words sound, the feelings they provoke. A good poem is a lot like looking at a painting, there’s a lot you can know, but you can also just experience it. Poems are often ambiguous and you bring meaning to them.

Find a journal – A lot of journals publish poetry and prose and art–all kinds of things. I’ll go through journal suggestions in a different post, but these are great publications to support and you get to read lots of different things, often very affordably. There’s a journal out there for everyone.

Go back to the last poem you loved – Maybe you haven’t read poetry since you were a child or a teenager. What was the last poem that moved you? Go back to it and think about what it was that you liked about it. It’ll probably lead you in fun directions.

Don’t be afraid to sample and not finish – You don’t have to read poetry collections from start to finish. Read something here or there and let it buzz around in your head for a while. It’s not like DNFing a novel (which you should also not feel bad about in my opinion), the stakes are low.

BONUS – I’m happy to make custom recommendations as well! Let me know what kinds of things you like reading in the comments and I’ll give poetry suggestions!

Do you enjoy poetry? Do you have a favorite poet? Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Ways to Start Reading Poetry

  1. Great post! I’m a person who has never really liked poetry (Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are the only exceptions), but a lot of that is because I just don’t UNDERSTAND it. It makes me feel dumb! I like your suggestion of not worrying so much about what it’s supposed to MEAN and just enjoy. That’s wonderful advice and something I for sure need to try. Oh, one poetic form I do like is novels-in-verse.

    Happy TTT (on a Thursday)!



    1. I think that is so understandable. Too much analysis can kill the joy of reading anything! In my masters courses, sometimes wading through the theory and philosophy was such a pain. I’ve only read one Masters poem, “The Hill,” and I really enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll have to pick that anthology up.

      Liked by 1 person

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