Poetry 101: An Introduction

There are so many people who refuse to read poetry because they find it scary, or difficult. Well, my darlings, I am here to assure you poetry is for everyone, regardless of skill or courage levels.

Poetry is essentially communication through metaphors, imagery and rhythm.  Poems tell stories and evoke feelings, just the same as any other narrative, but they do it in shorter, more intense bursts.

Poems require that the reader is an active participant—engaged in the poem and engaging their imagination. You will have to do some thinking when reading poetry, but don’t let that scare you. You think all the time, you’ve totally got this handled.

Schools will teach you how to read a poem for symbolism, and I believe that’s where the public gets its fear from. Finding symbolism is complicated, and difficult, and not something you want to do on a rainy Saturday morning. Naturally, after having learned to do that for poems in schools, people will steer away from poetry.

Poets will teach you to feel the poem. To watch it; to let the images therein rise and mutate and flow—to feel the beat, the rhythm. That hardly sounds any better, does it? But all the poet is asking you to do is follow your gut and let the poem sink in. Much in the same way a favorite song would get your foot tapping, and then get stuck in your head after a listen or two.

Poetry is mental osmosis, my doves. Completely painless.

Yes, some older poems or ones that are more lyrical will contain obscure references or archaic words. Keep a dictionary handy, and be sure to read whatever footnotes are there to help give you context. More contemporary poems, however, won’t be that labor-intensive. Start with the modern ones, then work your way backwards if you feel daunted.

Billy Collins at D.G. Williams books, San Diego. Photo by Marcelo Noah. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Billy_Collins.jpg

Billy Collins, a modern poet, is very easy to understand and is an excellent poet. Try his poem “Introduction to Poetry” on for size.

And then go ahead and read “To the Reader Setting Out” by Edward Hirsch for more information on starting your love affair with poetry.  Do you feel a little more confident in your ability to read poetry now? I hope so.


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