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The Beginner’s Guide To Reading Poetry

The Beginner’s Guide To Reading Poetry


School has probably conditioned you to hate poetry, and that’s understandable. I’m here to tell you to give poetry another chance. Forget everything school has taught you about it and explore it on your own terms.

Another reason you might not like poetry is that you might think it’s a bit tricky and confusing and only super smart literary people understand it. I’m here to say anyone can enjoy poetry, including you!

Here’s the beginner’s guide to reading poetry.

Start with music to ease your way in

People claim they hate poetry, but they love music, and they sing along word-for-word. Song lyrics are poetry. Songs tell a story. Some pack so much story in, some only a little. Google your favourite songs and read their lyrics to see how they tell that story. See how or when they rhyme or if they don’t, and think about why.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

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Listen to spoken word

A great way to learn to read poetry is by hearing it! Spoken word events have such a great atmosphere. It’s amazing hearing a poem being brought to life in person, by the author. Some people will read off their paper or screens, others will have rehearsed their poem, and others will do a bit of slam poetry and make it up on the spot.

Hearing poetry is a great way to hear the story of the poem. You’ll hear the author’s voice the rhythm, the tone and hear which parts they emphasise.

And you’ll meet other likeminded people at these events you may be able to offer you some tips.

If you can’t go to an event, there are heaps of free spoken word videos you can watch online. I recommend Rupi Kaur and Sarah Kay.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

Learn the different types of poetry

There are all sorts of different poetry types, and they all have their own rules. It’s natural to prefer one type over another. Explore the different types – free verse, haikus, limericks, etc. – and see which ones you prefer. Then seek out different poems which use the same structure.

This Prezi infographic shows all of the common types of poetry and an example for each one.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

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Learn the terms

There are quite a few different terms in poetry, and it can be a bit daunting to get into poetry if you don’t know the terms. Shmoop has a good glossary which breaks down all the standard terms. If they don’t stick with you, don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of them pretty quickly. The best way to learn them is by reading poems, and you’ll start picking them up in their natural habitat.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

Know where to find poems

If you’re going to read poems, you need to know where to find them. A good place to start is to check out the poetry section at your local library or bookstore. Your library will probably have the old-fashioned style poems you were taught to hate, but they also might have some modern ones. And they’re free!

The poetry section in your local bookstore is great because they’ll have a large range of different types and styles. They’ll have heaps of easy to read contemporary ones. If you’re a little low on money and can’t buy a book at the moment, see if your local library has it or if they can order it in for you.

There’s plenty of free poems to read online from poets of all backgrounds and styles.

Literary journals are great because they usually always feature poetry. And some even post poems on their website.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

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Start with contemporary poems

If you’re unsure of what style of poetry to start with, I recommend contemporary. It’s about modern issues and is in very easy to read language while still being beautifully written. I recommend poets like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, and Fiphie.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

Poems must be read more than once

Give the poem a general read. Then look at the structure. Then read more deeply and try to uncover the meaning and the metaphors. Then read it aloud to hear the story and the rhythm.

Google the poem and interpretation and compare it with your interpretation. Is it similar? It doesn’t matter if it isn’t because everyone will get a different meaning from a poem. There’s no one right answer. It’ll just help you look at it from another perspective.

The Beginner's Guide To Reading Poetry

Are you a fan of poetry? Why/why not? What are your favourite poems and who are your favourite poets?

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