19 votes

What are some good entry points for getting into poetry?

I like the idea of poetry, but I almost never actually read it. My knowledge of the form is pretty much limited to a handful of popular classics that I had to read back in high school; one or two poems each from Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and Shakespeare.

Where do I start if I want to dip my toes into poetic waters? What are some good poems/compilations for poetry novices? I'm particularly interested in modern, contemporary voices, but I'm open to anything.

17 comments

  1. [4]
    Comment deleted by author
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    1. [2]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      You've given me a lot of jumping off points! Thank you for taking the time to type this out. There's a part of me that wants to diligently research each of the books you listed and see which one...

      You've given me a lot of jumping off points! Thank you for taking the time to type this out.

      There's a part of me that wants to diligently research each of the books you listed and see which one might best align with my interests, and then there's another part of me that wants to just pick one at random. We'll see which way I lean once I finish my current library checkouts.

      1 vote
      1. unknown user
        Link Parent
        That has been the best way to go in my experience. Just wander in a bookshop, pick some random stuff, just reading the covers and a couple pages. I buy many books with research and/or reviews and...

        and then there's another part of me that wants to just pick one at random

        That has been the best way to go in my experience. Just wander in a bookshop, pick some random stuff, just reading the covers and a couple pages. I buy many books with research and/or reviews and that stuff is incredibly useful, but sometimes the Muses know better.

        2 votes
    2. annadane
      Link Parent
      And I love this about Tildes. Everyone's so educated. You get this on Reddit too of course but ~ has some real gems

      And I love this about Tildes. Everyone's so educated. You get this on Reddit too of course but ~ has some real gems

      1 vote
  2. [6]
    Thales
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    This may sound strange, but what really breathed life into poetry for me was learning more about its underlying structure (or lack thereof, in the case of its freer forms). I’m far from an expert,...
    • Exemplary

    This may sound strange, but what really breathed life into poetry for me was learning more about its underlying structure (or lack thereof, in the case of its freer forms).

    I’m far from an expert, but one book I’d heartily endorse to a poetry neophyte is John Lennard’s The Poetry Handbook. It lays out the basics of metre, form, lineation, rhyme, and so forth in a readily understandable and brief volume—the first edition runs a little less than 200 pages.

    It also introduces the reader to numerous poets from a variety of different movements and eras, so it provides a nice sampler of different poets if you’re just looking to see what’s out there. What’s particularly nice about this ‘guided tour’ through poetry’s history is that Lennard also attaches a bit of info on the background and analysis for each poem he references, which I found made it easier to appreciate even those poems which didn’t immediately speak to me. Lennard doesn’t directly quote all the poems he references, but you can look up almost all of them for free online.

    Another great sampler might be to check out the recent LitHub article on the 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language, which was posted somewhere on Tildes a couple weeks ago.

    I’ve been reading through the list slowly over the past few days and have encountered numerous poems I’d never seen before. It’s another lovely way to experience the breadth of poetry, even if 32 is of course the tiniest fraction of English-language poetry.

    Hopefully you find something which speaks to you!

    4 votes
    1. [5]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      A "guided tour" sounds great! I think one of the harder things about poetry is that I often don't have the background knowledge needed to really interpret and appreciate it. Almost every poem I've...

      A "guided tour" sounds great! I think one of the harder things about poetry is that I often don't have the background knowledge needed to really interpret and appreciate it. Almost every poem I've ever read has been enhanced by reading others' analyses of it because they can identify things that I don't know to look for, or they include background information that yields better understanding.

      Thanks for the recommendation and the link to the LitHub article. I think I'm going to explore both.

      3 votes
      1. [4]
        Thales
        Link Parent
        No problem, I hope I haven't over-sold Lennard's book! Just FYI, the first edition is great if you're interested in a very quick breakdown of poetry's fundamental devices. The second edition,...

        No problem, I hope I haven't over-sold Lennard's book!

        Just FYI, the first edition is great if you're interested in a very quick breakdown of poetry's fundamental devices. The second edition, however, encompasses an expanded selection of poets and more analysis of individual poems (which sounds like it might be more in line with what you're looking for).

        Glancing through my copies, neither version dives into the 'history' of poetry quite as much as I remembered. But both still provide an excellent overview of how to approach a poem and how different poets have utilized different poetic devices through the ages.

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          Taler
          Link Parent
          What would be good resources for the history of poetry? That sounds interesting.

          What would be good resources for the history of poetry? That sounds interesting.

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            Thales
            Link Parent
            That's a good question, and unfortunately I don't feel qualified enough to give a good answer. I'd still consider myself a beginner with regard to poetry, having only seriously been interested in...

            That's a good question, and unfortunately I don't feel qualified enough to give a good answer. I'd still consider myself a beginner with regard to poetry, having only seriously been interested in it for a couple years now.

            Most of my (limited) knowledge of the medium's history has come through gradual induction: picking up bits of info from literary criticism, university lectures, Wikipedia, newspaper articles, poet biographies, etc.

            The only resource dedicated to poetry's history that I've gone through myself has been Yale's online lectures on Modern Poetry, which look in depth at a few poets of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

            Wish I could be of more help! Maybe Yugioh Mishima--who posted above--has some advice? They seem to be well-versed (pun intended) in poetry.

            2 votes
            1. Taler
              Link Parent
              Thanks for the help! The course looks interesting, though a bit limited. But that comes with in-depth courses, I suppose.

              Thanks for the help! The course looks interesting, though a bit limited. But that comes with in-depth courses, I suppose.

  3. [2]
    Pilgrim
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    You might try listening to some spoken word as an entry point. Here's one of my favorites (about teachers): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4 And here is a favorite poem of mine - The...

    You might try listening to some spoken word as an entry point.

    Here's one of my favorites (about teachers):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4

    And here is a favorite poem of mine - The Second Coming, by W.B. Yeats - read aloud:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEunVObSnVM&t=20s

    3 votes
    1. grahamiam
      Link Parent
      I'm in this camp - I've very, very rarely gotten any kind of pleasure or meaning out of reading poetry, but I love hearing poetry being read. A reading that I've listened to over and over again...

      I'm in this camp - I've very, very rarely gotten any kind of pleasure or meaning out of reading poetry, but I love hearing poetry being read. A reading that I've listened to over and over again from a poet who I love and respect the hell out of is Ross Gay reading Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uURnrX_-v6o

      3 votes
  4. [2]
    davidb
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    I can't really recommend a good starting point, but Anthony Etherin's palindrome and anagram experimental poetry re-sparked my interest in poetry. Check out some of the PDF pamphlets on his...

    I can't really recommend a good starting point, but Anthony Etherin's palindrome and anagram experimental poetry re-sparked my interest in poetry. Check out some of the PDF pamphlets on his website - aelindromes.pdf and the_white_whale.pdf particularly captured my fascination when I first discovered his work. Also, I haven't followed him closely, so I enjoyed finding his recently published line-by-line anagram of Hamlet, halt_me.pdf.

    2 votes
    1. kfwyre
      Link Parent
      These are fascinating and complex. I love the idea of modifying palindromes to make them more robust (e.g. using letter pairs) while still working underneath a strong restriction. Not to mention...

      These are fascinating and complex. I love the idea of modifying palindromes to make them more robust (e.g. using letter pairs) while still working underneath a strong restriction. Not to mention making two poems anagrams of each other!

      Thank you for linking these.

      1 vote
  5. Akir
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    Honestly, there isn't any. Poetry is possibly the most subjective art. You might be moved by the standards, you may not; you may only end up liking the poetry of this one chick on Tumblr....

    Honestly, there isn't any. Poetry is possibly the most subjective art. You might be moved by the standards, you may not; you may only end up liking the poetry of this one chick on Tumblr. Personally I didn't really get poetry until I read some really good prose.

    I do know quite a few people who didn't appreciate poetry until after they learned the traditional forms, so you might just start your journey by writing your own.

    2 votes
  6. [3]
    Taler
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    Hey, the youtube channel TED-ED has a playlist where they animate and read poems plus an additional video where they give context for the poem. It is short, but it may be an entertaining...

    Hey, the youtube channel TED-ED has a playlist where they animate and read poems plus an additional video where they give context for the poem.
    It is short, but it may be an entertaining entrypoint for poetry. I know I enjoyed it.
    The first video of their playlist: The road not taken by Robert Frost
    Their explanation of that poem

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      grahamiam
      Link Parent
      Another great series that creates short films for poems is called MotionPoems: http://motionpoems.org/. Highly recommend it. My favorite poem there is Thomas Lux's "Render, Render"...

      Another great series that creates short films for poems is called MotionPoems: http://motionpoems.org/. Highly recommend it. My favorite poem there is Thomas Lux's "Render, Render" (http://motionpoems.org/episode/render-render/), but my favorite video is probably for Michaelle Gould's "How Not to Need Resurrection" (http://motionpoems.org/episode/resurrection/).

      2 votes
      1. Taler
        Link Parent
        Never heard of that one, thanks!

        Never heard of that one, thanks!

        2 votes