7.29.2011

How to Read Poetry


"For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry."
Mary Oliver

I think part of why people misunderstand poetry as a genre, is because they don't know how to read it. Something that should be understood is that it is not meant to be read all at once. It is too deep, so deep that if you try to read it in large amounts, you get overwhelmed easily which leads to boredom. Novels and literature contain stories, all of it enveloped into a larger work which means that it is saturated somewhat. You still feel the beauty and the honesty of it depending on the work, but not all at once. A good author won't make you feel too much too fast, it should be gradual and steady. (A sign of an amateur author is one who makes you feel so many emotions all at once without ever really reaching catharsis. It is a cheap shot at emotions called melodrama or bathos.)

With poetry, every word counts. Every period, every comma, every space counts. Because it shares a short emotion or story in a small space, it is very dense with meaning and richness. This richness in a sense, makes it easy to become overwhelmed when you try to read a lot of it all at once. You leave your reading session feeling confused rather than energized and inspired.

I have found, the best way for me to read poetry is in small doses because of this very reason. I keep my latest book of poems by my bedside and read two poems before bed, and two poems when I wake up. When I have time throughout the day I also pick up my copy, although usually it is just done morning and night. I find that by doing so, I am inspired as I fall asleep and as I wake up, setting the tone for my dreams or my day.

If you have ever felt overwhelmed with poetry, please give it another chance. It has touched me and moved me in a way that no other art form ever has.

My favorite poem collections for your reference:

4 comments:

Nathan Brough said...

I appreciate this post and so many others will too, of course. It's hard to want to share something you value so much; the world is so concerned with consuming large volumes and quantities of anything and everything.
Thanks for giving your time and of yourself to keep up this blog, it's a daily visit for me.

Katie Christine said...

Mandy, this is fantastic. I think you've hit the nail right on the head about what separates good writing from the bad. A book could be the most "boring" storyline in the world, but if the emotion is conveyed in a steady way, it can be incredibly gratifying, and poetry is so often pure transcendence.

Lizzy said...

miss you too!

Hopefully I will have an apartment soon and then they can forward my mail to me. Wish I had time to read your blog more.. someday I will :) Sure love you

7upkels said...

LOVE the Cummings reference... As we all would know :)