The Proper Way to Read a Poem
Do you read poems the right way?
We all enjoy a good poem, and probably have a few saved on our computers, marked in a book or even printed out. But the question we should ask is, do we read poems the right way?
Is there even a right way? I didn’t think so, but apparently there is.
Poems impact us in different ways, and sometimes we have to read them multiple times to divine their deeper meanings. But to truly obtain these layers, there are other best practices that one should adhere to,
Below are 10 examples.
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1. When you read a poem, especially a poem not meant to be a “spoken word” poem, always read it out loud. (Never mind what they said in grammar school—to subvocalize so that you won’t bother your peers.) Your ear will pick up more than your head will allow. That is, the ear will tell the mind what to think.
2. Try to meet a poem on its terms not yours. If you have to “relate” to a poem in order to understand it, you aren’t reading it sufficiently. In other words, don’t try to fit the poem into your life. Try to see what world the poem creates. Then, if you are lucky, its world will help you re-see your own.
3. If you don’t know a word, look it up or die.
4. A poem cannot be paraphrased. In fact, a poem’s greatest potential lies in the opposite of paraphrase: ambiguity. Ambiguity is at the center of what is it to be a human being. We really have no idea what’s going to happen from moment to moment, but we have to act as if we do.
5. A poem has no hidden meaning, only “meanings” you’ve not yet realized are right in front of you. Discerning subtleties takes practice. Reading poetry is a convention like anything else. And you learn the rules of it like anything else—e.g., driving a car or baking a cake.
6. A poem can feel like a locked safe in which the combination is hidden inside. In other words, it’s okay if you don’t understand a poem. Sometimes it takes dozens of readings to come to the slightest understanding. And sometimes understanding never comes. It’s the same with being alive: Wonder and confusion mostly prevail.
7. There is nothing really lost in reading a poem. If you don’t understand the poem, you lose little time or energy. On the contrary, there is potentially much to gain—a new thought, an old thought seen anew, or simply a moment separated from all the other highly structured moments of your time.
8. Try to see what world the poem creates. Then, if you are lucky, its world will help you re-see your own.
9. Poetry depends on pattern and variation—even non-linear, non-narrative, anti-poetic poetry. By perceiving patterns and variations on those patterns, your brain will attempt to make order out of apparent chaos. “Glockenspiel,” “tadpole,” and “justice” have ostensibly nothing to do with each other, and yet your brain immediately tries to piece them together simply because they are there for the apprehending.
10. Reading poetry is not only about reading poetry. Its alleged hermetic stylizations of syntax and diction can enhance your awareness of the world, even those things that don’t deal directly in words. A dress, a building, a night sky—all involve systems of pattern-recognition and extrapolation
Image and Article Credit: The Alantic