What books would you recommend as a way to start reading poetry?
I’ve been asked this question a few times recently and been a bit stumped as to how best to respond.
It’s not that I don’t have books of poetry that I love: I do, and some of those books are my most treasured, valued possessions.
I think on reflection it’s more that:
I very rarely sit down and read a book of poetry. I’m much more likely to dip in and out, randomly, and see what I find
The books I have on my shelves have nearly all followed on from ‘finding’ a poet through some other means. On a poster, in a newspaper, a postcard I found in a library.
I’ve bought the book afterwards to find more, or to pay some kind of respect to the poet I discovered (though, if I’m honest, haven’t always got the same ‘aha’ from their other work, or reading the poems one by one in book form)
Poem reading is a subjective experience. What I like might not be what you like.
You probably inherited some idea of the poetry you were ‘supposed’ to read when you were at school. This is quite likely the reason you are not currently reading poetry, and don’t have books of it on your shelves.
I do not want to reinforce the idea there are poems you are ‘supposed’ to read. I would like to subvert it
The poems that have had the biggest impact on me, that did something to change the wiring of my brain or open up a channel of my heart, all arrived when I was not looking for them.
When I was reading a paper, or waiting for a train, or checking out a book, or going to an event unexpectedly because the tickets for the more famous author were sold out, or at a conference on an another topic entirely, or clicking a link on twitter.
Poems seem to have their own way of finding you.
So what I’d suggest at this stage instead of spending money on books is to:
Keep your eyes and ears open for poems: when you’re out and about, flicking through a newspaper, in the library, on facebook, reading blogs, browsing online
Look out for sites that have daily or weekly poems on offer. This is a way of exploring different authors and styles, and is to my mind a more natural and intuitive way to read poems than sitting down and reading a book of them. The Writer’s Almanac has a daily poem (you can also listen to it if you prefer the spoken form.)
I’d also recommend the site of poet Maya Stein, and her 12 line Tuesday poems (sent by email each Tuesday)
Get into the habit of grabbing the poem when you find it. If you can’t physically grab it (bookmark the link, tear the poem from the paper, take the poem-postcard home with you), take a note of the author’s name, the title of the poem, the opening line.
Allow for the possibility that poems will look, sound and feel different to what you were expecting. The poems you fall in love with might look rather different to what you were taught at school.
They might be very, very short.
there’s no pretence / out here / where the river / runs dark… / everything just is ~ Monkey Willow
There’s a whole school of micropoetry on Twitter. Rummage around some hashtags like #micropoetry #tanka or #gogyohka
It might be long, half-spoken, half-sung, recorded on video, shared by thousands. Here’s How to Be Alone, a video by fiilmaker, Andrea Dorfman, and poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis.
Keep an open mind and an open heart, and see what you find.
See which poems find you.