How to Read Poetry and Enjoy It - LetterPile - Writing and Literature
Updated date:

How to Read Poetry and Enjoy It

John has been writing poetry since his school days. He was awarded "Poet of the Year 2014" Hubby Awards and has had two poems become songs.

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

First, the Challenge

Well, we all like writing prompts and challenges, don't we? Well, some of us do, myself being one. I find challenges issued by my peers here at HubPages a great way to inspire me, or even to break a case of so-called writer's block.

I don't often receive a personal challenge through the comments on another person's article, but in this case, that is exactly what happened.

In the comments on an article by my friend Chris Mills, How to Read Very Short Fiction and Enjoy It, the following challenge was issued to me in comments

  • Chris Mills 4 days ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

"Ann, I was looking at my hubs describing genre, form, and style in literature and the thought came to me to write about how to read short fiction effectively. Now someone needs to write one on how to read poetry effectively. That won't be me, I assure you."

  • Ann Carr 4 days ago from SW England

"I think John Hansen is probably the best for that."


So, never being one to pass up a challenge, here is my article.


how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

How to Read Poetry and Enjoy It

As far as literature is concerned, especially "popular literature", poetry tends to get a bad rap.

This can be blamed on a number of things but often stems from children and adolescents being forced to study and analyse the poems of notable past poets like Shakespeare, Frost, Keats, Shelley, Browning etc.

I am not saying these famous poets were not skilful wordsmiths and literary greats of their day, but with so many wonderful contemporary poets the early teaching of poetry would be better focussed on their work. This would appeal more, and be much more relatable to the young people of today.

Just a few of the more contemporary and living poets more worthy of study include: Robert Adamson, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, Ogden Nash, Pablo Neruda, Shel Silverstein and Richard Wilbur.

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

In Defence of Poetry

The mistake many people make is that they tend to treat poetry like short fiction stories. In fact, poetry should not be read in the same way as a story. It is more like a song and should be appreciated in that way. Just like you listen to a favourite song over and over to obtain the full appreciation of it, you need to read a poem repeatedly. You should also read the poem aloud, at least once, to allow it to impart its full impact on you.

Many songs are just poems put to music and singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan and Don McLean can easily be described as poets.

Most people are too busy for this and would rather spend time reading a 2000 word article on the Internet than on a 200 word poem even though the poem probably required much more time and skill for the writer to construct than the article did.

D.E.Navarro (author of Dare to Soar) says:

"Poetry does not simply convey information to our minds, like a story, but actually imparts itself..... Poets are philosophers who write, and most philosophers are poets who can't."

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

My Personal Favourite Poets

One of my all-time favourite poets, though vastly underrated, I feel, was Rudyard Kipling. A famous excerpt and fine example of his poetry is:

"Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;

And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back --

For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." (from The Law of the Jungle)

Another, and possibly my favourite of all his many poems is The Female of the Species.

Running a close second, or even equal first place would be fellow Aussie and Bush Poet, A.B. Banjo Paterson. The most famous of his poems being the iconic Waltzing Matilda, The Man From Snowy River, and Clancy of the Overflow.

A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

To Rhyme ...

From the viewpoint of anyone who is really serious about poetry--rhyme is one of the deepest and most beautiful elements of the craft. Getting it right is like composing a symphony. Take for example these lines from a couple of famous poems:

"If we had but world enough, and time

This coyness, lady, were no crime."

or

"The grave's a fine and secret place,

But none, I think, do there embrace."

There is nothing not to like about rhyme when it is handled well.

The problem with rhyme is that it is really hard to execute well, and after a time all the rhymes have been used, especially in English.

Many publishers today, and so-called poetry experts, believe rhyming makes poetry forced or unnatural (though I admit it can sometimes happen) in my opinion it is more challenging to write a rhyming poem than free verse, and though it may not be quite as fluid, it is the rhyming makes it beautiful.

If Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, or any of the other fine traditional rhyming poets of the past, were alive today, they might find it difficult to get their work published in today’s predominantly free-verse markets.

To write rhyming poetry that transcends mere childhood nursery rhymes, we must understand the importance of alliteration, assonance, and consonance and what they can bring to our work. These elements of rhyme become useful tools when used effectively.

Rhyme does not have to be an ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme. A typical rhyme scheme may look like this:

I went to the store
To buy some bread
But I found something more
A hat for my head.

In the example above, store/more and bread/head are examples of perfect rhyme (when the words sound the same because of the last syllable). Many poets are reluctant to attempt perfect rhyme since they risk writing poems that sound forced or even clichéd. Mastering the different types of rhyme beyond ABAB or AABB improves poetry techniques and also creates a more sophisticated style of poem.

While perfect rhyme is often found at the end of a line, there are a number of ways good rhyming poetry makes use of other kinds of rhyme. Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in a single line of verse. Internal rhyme is a more subtle way of creating rhyming poetry. Edgar Allan Poe provided an excellent example of internal rhyme in “The Raven":

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door
Only this, and nothing more.”

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

... or Not to Rhyme.

Editors hate rhyming poetry. Or do they? Rhyme has become a touchy subject in the world of contemporary poetry, but to many poetry editors, there’s some valid reason for the shift. A number of writers who work in rhyme have yet to graduate from the nursery rhymes and Dr Seuss poems of childhood to the more adult types of verse. Recollections of the fun verses that delighted us as children may be the reason editors tend to avoid rhyming poems.

Lay people often have the misconception that poems should rhyme. Free verses can be equally beautiful if written well.

A poem is just a lyrical flow of thoughts which should come out naturally. If rhyme is forced it can do away with the beauty.

Some think that to write a poem all they have to do is come up with some rhyming lines. However, rhyme does not a poem make! There are many elements of poetry. Rhyme is only one of them. If all you have are some lines that rhyme at the end, you really have nothing more than maybe a limerick. To avoid using rhyme as a crutch, first master the other elements of poetry, then tackle rhyme.

Another important element: conciseness. We can define a poem in this way: the best words in the best order and as few of them as possible.

Also, consider imagery and fresh, original language, and some sort of message or social commentary. Did you know this is what most nursery rhymes were originally written as?

Free Verse poems may have no set meter, no rhyme scheme or any particular structure. Some poets would find this liberating, being able to change your mind at will, while others feel like they couldn't do a poem justice in that manner. Robert Frost commented that writing free verse was like "playing tennis without a net."

Free verse poems are often considered the modern form of poetry, but in fact, they have been around for hundreds of years. Walt Whitman is often considered the father of free verse. Here is a short poem by Carl Sanburg as an example:

Fog

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.


how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

My Opinion

Perhaps I am too traditional or old-fashioned, but I find it very difficult to call something poetry which does not rhyme, has no meter, no structure and no rhythm.

If we encourage no rhyme, or half rhyme, on the basis of it being more natural and flowing, aren't we in danger of creating a new generation of poets who define poetry as simply being a list of inspiring words and phrases, without any particular form?

I feel that where many people go wrong, and why they don't enjoy poetry, is that they are told they need to try and interpret what the poet had in mind and break the poem up into all its elements checking for form, meter etc. This is fine if you are a student and a literary or English assignment requires an in-depth analysis. But if you are just someone who wants to read poetry for the enjoyment of it, then all this is unimportant.

The first things I look for in deciding a poem to read (apart from the name of a familiar poet I like) is a catchy title, interesting subject matter, a pleasant and smooth flow, and often an effective use of rhyme.

Technicalities are the least of my concerns (unless attempting a formal style of poem such as a sonnet or haiku). If the poem reads well and sounds good when read aloud, then I am happy. I read poetry for enjoyment, not to analyse. The poems I write myself invariably have a clear message and are not obtuse and difficult to understand. I don't want my writing to be difficult to understand like a cryptic crossword puzzle. I want to appeal to the average reader who is not a poetry expert as well as other poets.

I also like to write short stories or flash fiction but recently have found a way of combining both poetry and storytelling in what I call "story poems." I can tell a story using rhyming verse and I find it a very effective method that saves on unnecessary words. I suppose this could also fall under the heading of narrative verse.

Poetry is Not Dead Yet

Sit back and read your favourite poem,

Somewhere comfy in your home.

Just relax, don't think too hard,

Give a mile, don't take a yard.


Reading verse is not a chore,

It isn't meant to make you snore.

Don't try to analyse each word,

Set it free, just like a bird.


Imagine listening to a song,

If it sounds good it can't be wrong.

Perhaps a message hides within,

If so take it on the chin.


Don't contemplate the rhyme and form,

Any port's good in a storm.

The poet's blood is in the verse,

The urge to rhyme can be a curse.


Put yourself within their shoes,

Imagine you're the poet's muse.

Appreciate the time and sweat,

For poetry is not dead yet.

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

Conclusion Summary

  • Find a poet whose work you enjoy and follow them
  • Read poetry for enjoyment, not with the intention of analysing it
  • Treat a poem like a song, not a story
  • Read a poem numerous times, at least once out loud
  • Don't dwell on technicalities unless it is a set form such as a sonnet, haiku etc.
  • Don't label a poem as childish just because it rhymes
  • Appreciate that a poem (especially rhyming verse) often takes a lot more time and effort to construct than a much longer article or short story
  • Grab a cup of tea or coffee, relax and take your time to savour and enjoy a poem

I hope this article went some way to answering the question of how to read and enjoy poetry. Thank you for the prompt Chris Mills and Ann Carr.

how-to-read-poetry-and-enjoy-it

© 2018 John Hansen

Comments

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 10, 2018:

John, your passion for poetry really comes through in this article. I felt your excitement in every word.

I've told you many times, you're my favorite poet here at HP. Your poetry always flows effortlessly, rhymes and offers a clear message. To coin your brilliant phrase above: your blood is in the verse.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on April 09, 2018:

Thank you Li-Jen, I greatly appreciate that kind comment. Glad you found it interesting

Li-Jen Hew on April 09, 2018:

Hi Jodah, thank you for generously sharing your knowledge. :) And for painstakingly extracting other poet's poems to use as examples. Your "Poetry Is Not Dead Yet" is another good poem. I like that you added "just like a bird". A relaxing feel. :)

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 17, 2018:

Thank you for reading this, Devika, and for those nice words describing poetry.

DDE on March 17, 2018:

Great challenge and you shared with lovely photos. Poetry is beautiful and eases the mind.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 12, 2018:

MsDora, glad to hear that you read the poetry part of the daily devotionals aloud so it comes to life. Thanks for reading and confirming the information here is relevant.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 12, 2018:

Glad you took the challenge, John. Great work, as usual. My daily devotional often includes poetry, and even though I read the prose silently, I find myself reading the poetry aloud. It comes alive when I hear it. I appreciate all the explanations you put into this article. Thanks!

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2018:

Thanks for reading this John. Yes, it is obvious you approach the reading of poetry the right way which allows for the full enjoyment of the work. Thank you for your constant support and encouragement.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2018:

Hi Rasma, There need to be more articles written about how to appreciate and enjoy poetry. Write however seems easy and flowing to you. Your poetry always has a beautiful flow and rhythm whether it rhymes or not. I find that even when I try to write free-form verse I still tend to automatically rhyme in places. Thanks for reading and commenting.

John Ward from Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. on March 11, 2018:

The romance of the Rhyme has always intrigued and thrilled me. This is well taught, in this article and I thank you for it. I have not written much poetry, but I like to relax and read it,sometimes aloud, to make my peace in relaxation almost perfect. I DO ENJOY good poetry and I find that in the reading of it, my mind is placed in a state of quiet grace. Well done, written and said.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on March 11, 2018:

My poetic soul thanks you. Great write on poetry and reading it. Usually when I am inspired my fingers fly over the keyboard and what shows up on the page is what I present. I am usually all free verse but at times the rhythm and rhyme just come on their own and that is a pleasant surprise at times.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2018:

Thank you, Ann. Glad you were pleased with my response to the challenge you two conjured up for me :)

It was actually a subject close to my heart so I couldn't refuse. Glad it worked out ok. I do hope this helps people understand poetry a little more and at least give it a try.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 11, 2018:

Excellent analysis of the components of poetry and how some react to it. I was one of those students at school who had to study poetry but found it rather boring. As you say, that was probably because I wasn't ready for the weight of it and something lighter, modern but still with some depth, would have inspired me more.

I now love poetry and enjoy writing it myself. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn't!

You took up this challenge and ran with it so well. I think this should inspire others to give it a go, at least to read it and even to write it.

Well done, John!

Ann

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2018:

Hi Harish,

I know you have a poet's heart and I am glad you agreed with what I wrote. Thank you for the confirmation and also your kind words my friend. We need to make it appeal to the young.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2018:

Venkat, thank you for sharing the important elements that make a poem appealing to you. Much appreciated.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on March 11, 2018:

A great article about relishing poetry. John, I fully agree with you suggestion that a poem should be read many times in order to have its import effectively.

What you wrote about reading poems aloud is also a nice method to savor them. Rhyming , though restricting the free flow, enables us to sing the poems like songs. You are expert at it ; I enjoy such kinds of poems.

Since poetry is there to stay till eternity, it would surely recapture its charm and take hold of the young hearts. I love going through this very informative hub , and greatly enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing this timely hub.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 11, 2018:

Very well explained, John. I read poetry because it provides an in-explainable joy and happiness to my heart. I can get associated with the scenery very clearly by reading a poem. This quality of natural appeal straight into the heart is the essential requirement for any poem. The title itself takes me and urges me to read that poem. That's why I read some and omit others.

Thanks for bringing out the essential qualities of Poetry.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you, Audrey. I think you and I are of the same mindset. you explained my feelings perfectly.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on March 10, 2018:

You are the master, John. Love this article and how you've explained poetry. I find it perfectly natural and even easy to use rhyme when I create my poetry. Though I dab in free verse, my prime inspiration is the rhyme. It simply makes perfect sense...to me.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Verlie, I appreciate your interesting and valued comment. You raise some very good points that add value to this article. Yes, we do need to set a bar. Thank you for reading and your kind words.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you, Flourish. I can understand where you are coming from. I have actually written quite a few free verse poems but I find I have to force myself to do so. It sounds strange I know, but rhyming comes more naturally to me.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you, Shyron. Your comments are always encouraging and inspiring. I am glad you are a fan of rhyming verse. Thank you for sharing your favourite poem

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on March 10, 2018:

What is a poem written in rhyme?

It is to corral the words in line

And becomes a song

When written in two-four time

I love, love, love to rhyme

Like the echoes of chimes

But not repeating the same tired old line

*

*

John, I love what you have written here and how you equate poems to songs and I can relate to that and one of my favorites is “Hello God” which I consider a master piece a poem in song.

Favorite poem at least one of them “I must and I shall forget you”

Blessings my friend

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on March 10, 2018:

Thank you John for speaking up for poetry, and for demystifying the ins and outs of rhyme. As with any craft, practice makes perfect. And it is important to try and understand the rules so we can break them. I believe writing poetry is a life-long endeavor that gets more rewarding as time goes on. Reading poetry both traditional, classical, and contemporary will only enhance the journey. Young poets have surprising passion and reveal truths relevant to their existence. We 'older' poets need to listen, and give them a chance to be heard, whatever form they use. But we also need to set the bar for ourselves, and for our own times, and conscience. Poetry, like music, is a way to uplift and share the pain and joy of being human. It deserves respect, and I thank you for spreading that message.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 10, 2018:

I’m not generally a fan of rhyming at all, as I find it forced and unnatural (like wearing a tight girdle), but I liked your defense of it. You were definitely the one to answer that writing prompt!

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Genna, thank you for a wonderful in-depth comment as always. It really adds to my article. I felt the same way when being taught poetry at school...it was made to be a chore rather than an enjoyable learning experience. thank you for the kind words.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 10, 2018:

Hi John...

"Bad rap" is so right! I'll never forget the way I was taught poetry in high school, and the way in which our teacher had us dissect the work of Keats and other classics. Angelou and Naruda are among my favorite contemporary poets.

"Most people are too busy for this and would rather spend time reading a 2000 word article on the Internet than on a 200 word poem even though the poem probably required much more time and skill for the writer to construct than the article did."

I couldn't agree more. This wonderful article is a must-read for anyone who feels daunted by the prospect of reading poetry and actually enjoying, or, (gasp) writing it. Well done. You have made my weekend, my friend.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Linda, I am glad I have helped convince you that poetry is worth another try. Thank you.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thanks, Bill. That method is the way to go. Cheers.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 10, 2018:

Jodah, I must admit that I often disregard poetry; I think it is laziness on my part. But you have explained it so very well. I promise to give it another try.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 10, 2018:

Great explanation, John! I tend to let the poem wash over me without giving much thought to the meaning....then I listen the second time to hear the story/meaning/message....

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you, Kristen. Cummings and Dickinson were two I considered mentioning as well. I am sure the Poetry a Day challenge was wonderful during Poetry Month. A former poet...no such thing, poetry never leaves you :) Hope to read a poem from you in the future.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 10, 2018:

John, great hub article about poetry and how to enjoy reading it, my friend. As a former poet, this was informative and useful. My favorite poet was Emily Dickinson and my mother's was EE cummings. I remember doing the Poetry a Day Challenge via Writer's Digest every March from the Poet Market's editor, when there was a posted prompt to do on the blog or website. Well done.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you Charmaine. Yes, there is a place for all kinds of poetry, depending what the reader is looking for. As I said, I rarely write cryptic poetry but some readers love the challenge of deciphering what is hidden within the words.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

I am glad this article was the kind of thing you were looking for Chris. I was actually trying to think of what to do for my next hub and your prompt made the decision for me. Much appreciated. Yes, I hope this proves helpful for readers of poetry.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank you, Frank. I really appreciate an encouraging comment like that form such a fine writer as yourself.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2018:

Thank Chris. Appreciated and fixed.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on March 10, 2018:

John, I just sent an email.

Frank Atanacio on March 10, 2018:

Poets and writers like yourself make reading them so worth it... A very good piece here... you met the challenge head on and took it by storm bravo

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on March 10, 2018:

Home run, John. This is exactly the kind of article I hoped for but could never write myself. Reading a poem like a song, is perfect. The insight into the basics of rhyming and meter are helpful as well. I like the concept of narrative verse. These are all things you have touched on to help the reader, not the writer, but the reader, to enjoy the work of you and so many fine poets on HubPages, The Creative Exiles and beyond. Thank you for accepting this challenge from Ann Carr and me. Very well done, John.

Threekeys on March 10, 2018:

This was a well needed topic to be written about.

I, too, am of the bent analyses of a poem doesnt forster the love of poetry.

Poetry just needs to be read out aloud to allow one to melt and fuse with the poet's imagery which is Aladdin's carpet that flies one into the world of magic and mystery.

I like both easy to read poems and I also like cryptic styled poems. One is not better or less than. They just are, Jodah.