Most of the poetry I’ve read in the past has been mandatory. Only recently, because of Conundrum Press, have I started to pursue poetry recreationally. However, that doesn’t suddenly make me an expert. I haven’t had a stroke of genius. I struggle quite a lot with poetry, and though I’m trying to ‘expand my horizons’ in my reading choices, I still find poetry quite hard to understand. I’m only seventeen, so there’s hope for me yet, but I thought I’d take you along on my journey to learn to read poetry.
Poetry is like any other piece of writing in that it has a story behind it. The only difference is poetry has no back-story or explanation and therefore leaves the reader to interpret at will. This is an amazing opportunity to explore the meanings behind the words and metaphors, but it also leaves a lot of room for confusion. One of the best ways to approach poetry is with someone or a number of some ones to help you through it. The discussion of the work is almost as enjoyable as the work itself.
Gather a few of your favorite people, preferably people who also enjoy poetry or at least are willing to try. Read a poem, or a series of poems. Then read them again. And again if needed. Read until you have a firm grasp on your opinion of the poem. When everyone is done grasping at the straws of their understanding, discuss. If no one knows where to start…Welcome to the club of poetry illiterates. There are a lot of us.
Start slow. The first question I always ask myself is ‘What was the poem about.’ This question can be surprisingly hard to answer, but you can’t understand something’s meaning if you don’t know what it’s about in the first place. A lot of poetry is vague. Even with helpful titles you might not know what the poem is about. This is where re-reading comes in handy. As I read a poem, as with any piece of writing, an image starts to form in my mind. The image shifts and takes focus the more I read. Sometimes the image I form on the first run through of the poem is completely different by the time I read the poem multiple times.
So, if no one knows where to start, share the image that formed in your mind while reading. It might be exactly what the poem is about, or it might be completely different; but what matters is how you interpret the poem. And your view of the poetry can change. During the discussions I’ve had, I find my ideas change as the talk progresses.
If you’re not ready to have a group discussion, start small. Write your impressions down and go through a series of questions with yourself. The point of all my ramblings is to void silent reading. I remember in elementary school, when silent reading was assigned I never felt comfortable talking about my opinions with my classmates or teachers. I felt I had to come up with an amazing deduction about the book I was reading all on my own. But ideas thrive with conversation. They grow and shift and change form completely. Share your thoughts and talk about what you’ve read. Get someone else’s viewpoint and develop your own views. Poetry is sometimes difficult, but if you compare notes with others, you get a broader understanding of what you’ve read.
I for one would have no clue how to proceed with poetry if it wasn’t for a few wonderful discussions with some knowledgeable people. So help me out, have you ever had poetry discussions? How did you approach it? Any and all suggestions are very much appreciated.