Top Nine Reasons to Read Poetry

Top Nine Reasons to Read Poetry

Please join me in welcoming Tania Runyan to the blog. Tania is a poet, and since my poetry reading list EXPLODED after FFW, I’m thrilled she’s sharing her top 9 reasons to read poetry. (And yes, that’s an actual picture of my poetry books after the conference, and that’s not even counting the books Will’s packed away and the ones Amazon hasn’t delivered yet.)

Where have all the poetry readers gone?

Book clubs and bestseller lists abound with novels and memoirs, but poetry, the forgotten stepbrother, seems to hang out in shady coffee shops with a bunch of beret-wearing, needy narcissists. In fact, when someone discovers I’m a poet, her face often locks into that stilted smile that implies, “Oh, how quaint!” (head pat) or “I don’t understand” or “Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t say another word.”

Poetry is confusing, irrelevant, and boring, right? Unless Robin Williams is standing on a desk proclaiming the power of verse, it’s sort of like, well … wait, what were we talking about?

top 9 reasons to read poetry (if you're not a berét-wearing hipster)

I’m here to encourage you, nay, plead with you, to give poetry a chance. Not because poetry needs you, but because you need poetry. Please behold my Top Nine Reasons to Read Poetry. (Hey, we poets always have to be different):

  1. It slows you down in a noisy world.

  2. It awakens you to your senses.

  3. It can be digested in small, delicious doses.

  4. It transports you into new emotional states in a matter of a few lines.

  5. It makes you more human and compassionate.

  6. It sensitizes you to the wonder and music of words themselves.

  7. It brings you into the company of writers with excellent taste in whiskey and scarves.

  8. It makes needy, narcissistic poets very happy. Which makes the world a safer place.

  9. It isn’t as hard as you think.

If you don’t buy number nine yet, take heart. I’ve got just the book for you.

How to Read a Poem

I wrote How to Read a Poem, inspired by Billy Collins’s poem “Introduction to Poetry,” after realizing I’d started to grow apathetic about poetry myself. Sure, I could write it, write about it, and study it, but was I really living it anymore?

Check out Collins:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to really experience a poem like this — to hold it to the light, listen to its buzz, wander and search its room, ski across its waters? But what if you have no experience with poetry? Or what if your experiences have been negative?

Collins encourages us to engage with a poem personally, not corner or confine it. Yes, you may have been taught to torture poems as a student, but there is hope you can transcend those traumatic experiences and fall in love with poetry—for the first time or again. How to Read a Poem explores each stanza of “Introduction to Poetry” as a strategy for entering the world of a poem on your own terms with your own imaginative powers and experiences.

For National Poetry Month, T.S. Poetry Press is working to get a copy of How to Read a Poem on at least one K-12 teacher’s desk in every state. I’ve been delighted to provide several copies to local teachers in Illinois and send a few out to my native California as well. Do you know a teacher who could use an inspirational boost? Do you know some students who could use a dose of magic known as poetry?

*****     *****     *****

I hope you’re convinced you need to read some poetry right now, and to make it a little easier on you, Tania is providing a copy of How to Read a Poem to one reader. You can keep it for yourself or give it to your favorite English teacher. To enter, just leave a comment below.

UPDATE: The giveaway has ended and the winner has been notified by email. But do head here to check out How to Read a Poem!

Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem was released in 2014. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, Willow Springs, Nimrod,and the anthology A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011. She tutors high school students, writes for the Good Letters blog, and edits for ReliefJournal.

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92 comments

  1. Lora says:

    I’ve been inhaling poetry lately as a kind of therapy. I would love to learn a bit more about how to love it even more.

  2. Cassandra says:

    I love reading and I love poetry! Haven’t read any since college but would love to get back to reading it! I think this book will help me get back on track to reading it

  3. Tania Runyan says:

    Thank you so much for your comments and enthusiasm, friends! I look forward to hearing about your poetry success stories!

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