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Guest Post: The Passion for Poetry: the Writer and the Reader

Today, we have an excellent guest post from Lu at Regular Rumination about generating a passion for poetry among readers from her perspective as a reader and writer of poetry.  I can’t wait for all of us to share our methods for reading and/or writing poetry.  Without further ado, here’s Lu:

“You can’t be a good reader if you don’t have the experience of writing,” is the essential philosophy of one of my literature professors. He has said on a few occasions now that he prefers reading and discussing poetry only with poets. Keep in mind he said this to a classroom full of students who are decidedly not poets, but rather Spanish-language literature students. Now, I’m not always the most attentive student, but this made me stop and really pay attention to what he was saying. This is exactly the kind of alienating idea that I try to work against, constantly. Poetry should be for everyone, not just those who are devoted to studying or writing it. Poetry is a sensual, literary experience for the masses, not for the few.

But what if he has a point? As someone who has studied writing poetry, not just reading it, do I have an advantage or some kind of insight that those who are “just” readers do not?

Don’t worry, I don’t actually think I am better at reading poetry than you are, but I do think there are some differences. I think the best metaphor to describe it is that reading poetry as a poet is like listening to music as a musician. I am no musician, even though I’m currently taking piano lessons again after 10 years, so when I listen to a complex piece of music (read: music with two or more instruments), I generally can’t tell the instruments apart or even what instruments are being played. I can’t tell you why I like the music. There are some things I’m more familiar with, like the piano, and that I can recognize and explain, but everything else? I just listen and enjoy.

When I am reading a poem for the first time, I am often more interested in what the poem sounds like than what it says. So, since I have been taking piano, when I first get a new piece to play, I always play my right hand first, then my left. Finally, after practicing those over and over again, I put them together and practice some more. With a poem, the first thing I “read”  is the sound. Only after I have gotten a grasp on what the author is trying to do with the rhythm, meter, rhyme and other aspects of sound in poetry can the meaning make its way through. Then I put the two together and read it again. That’s why people often say you can’t read a poem only once.

When I write poetry, what I pay more attention to really depends on the poem. Sometimes form comes first, others meaning. But for me, when I am reading and when I am writing, the two often begin as separate things and then come together to form the complete poem. However, I hope that when someone reads the poetry I have written, the two work together seamlessly. My poetry mentor once said to me, “We do all of this hard work as poets just so our readers won’t notice it.”

So how can we apply this to our daily poetry lives? How about getting people passionate about reading and writing poetry? If you are reading this post, you probably already are. I believe that the way we teach poetry makes it seem hard. I don’t think poetry should be hard. It should make you think, it should make you passionate, it should make you happy. Of course, not every poem can do all of those things for you, but introducing people to the wonders of poetry at an early age could get people passionate about poetry again.

Maybe you saw this coming, but I think the best way to get kids passionate about poetry is to get them writing it. There were plenty of things that I didn’t understand about poetry until I actually spent time writing it. Meter, for instance. I have a horrible ear, to this day I still have trouble hearing the meter in poetry. But writing in form, something I never thought I’d be able to do (and trust me, the first time, I did it kicking and screaming), really helped clarify what I was supposed to be hearing and writing.

Of course I disagree with my professor. Not everyone has to be a poet to understand, love or talk about poetry. Not everyone has to have a talent for poetry or writing to enjoy reading it. But there are advantages to studying the process of writing poetry when it comes to reading it, at least there were for me. In the end though, all that really matters, is that people are reading poetry and falling in love with it.

I don’t think everyone has the same reading or writing process that I do, so here’s my parting question to you: what is your poetry reading process like? If you write poetry, how do you incorporate form and meaning? Do you focus on one and then the other? I’m fascinated by both the reading and the writing process, so please, answer away!

Thanks, Lu, for participating in the National Poetry Month Blog Tour! I can’t wait to see what everyone has to say about their reading process.

***Also, don’t forget to check out today’s tour stop at Haiku Love Songs and Read Handed.

  • Valerie

    Very thought-provoking, Lu. I have been feeling a lot lately that I’d like to look into taking a class or two on poetry (i.e. through the local community college) but worried that it might reduce my interest in poetry. After reading your post, I think it may actually enhance it!
    Valerie´s last blog post ..POX- An American History by Michael Willrich

    • I think it would be great if you took a class on poetry and shared with us your experience..that would be fun.

  • Generally, form comes later for me when writing poetry, unless I’ve decided beforehand to write a haiku. When reading, I look for images that signal a certain theme to me and try to determine if it is carried throughout the entire poem. Sometimes the images I select don’t necessarily equate to the general theme of the whole poem, so I’ll read it again and see if I can find something more appropriate. I think I read poetry more from a writer’s perspective, which helps me craft my own, rather than from a pure reader perspective, whose goal is enjoyment…that’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading poems.

  • Excellent post! I haven’t written a poem in years, but when I did, I never much paid attention to form. However, when I read poetry, the way it sounds is my first consideration. My daughter’s class has been experimenting with poetry, starting with limericks, which she just loved.
    Anna´s last blog post ..Review- Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

  • Learnt a lot here. I do write poetry myself. Sometimes I let the poem dictates its own form.
    Nana Fredua-Agyeman´s last blog post ..Quotes for Friday from Peter Abrahams Mine Boy

  • I love poetry, but I have to say, I am a lazy poetry reader. If the poem goes for more than one printed page, I tend to lose interest. There are exceptions. It’s the same way when I write my (mediocre) poetry. I like to keep it short. I’m a fan of concise, dense poems more so than long, flowing ones. And if it’s long and dense, well you’ve really lost me unless I’m captured enough by the beginning of the poem to go through extracting meaning piece by piece. As much as others love “Howl” and “The Wasteland”, I’m really not a fan. Not that I don’t appreciate them as good poems, I just wouldn’t consider them my favorites.
    One kind of poem that you are likely not to recognize when you’re reading it (unless you’ve written one yourself) is the sestina. As a reader unfamiliar with the form, you’d probably just think “What the heck is wrong with this poem?!” In a case like that, it definitely does help to have some background in the writing side of poetry.
    Great post. It brings up a lot of good points.
    Julie @ Read Handed´s last blog post ..An Evening with Les Standiford