Tips for Writers

An Intro to Reading & Writing Poetry

Posted by jenshead@yahoo.com on September 12, 2019 at 9:05 AM

There are many considerations for how new writers can approach reading and writing poetry. That in itself can be intimidating, overwhelming even. What I’ve noticed during my years as student and teacher is that many of us have been exposed to poetry that isn’t easily accessible or classics that use archaic language and poetic conventions that have fallen out of style. Who wants to stumble or stutter through confusing text that holds no immediate or lasting impression? With such exposure to this literary artform, no wonder so many students and new writers fear or loath the thought of reading and writing poetry. If we continue to present poetry as an alien lifeform, it will remain this untouchable artifact for most individuals. Yet, if we present and approach poetry like the everyday element it is, we can begin to understand, appreciate, and even crave and love what it offers our lives.

      I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Great writers are first great readers.” If you’re my student, you’ve likely heard me say this (and mean it). For me, this is the largest truth of my writing journey and career. The problem with learning this truth, though, is that it took me some time to find contemporary texts that got me excited about writing like these writers. My own formal education began with classic texts. While the fiction was accessible enough—and often inspiring just the same—the poetry was beyond intimidating and confusing. I wanted so badly to understand and master poetry, I worked and worked and worked to become a more insightful reader and writer of it. What was problematic for me during those first few years—yes, years, heavy sigh, I know—was I analyzed and replicated conventions and styles that weren’t modern. Why is modernity important? Well, when you write about outdated social concerns and interests and use outdated language and only rely on traditional formal elements, you develop literature that’s out of date for today’s readership. Good luck finding readers and places to publish your outdated poetry. When I followed a fellow poet’s advice and began reading current lit journals from cover to cover, EVERYTHING in my literary life changed. I began to understand why so many people love poetry. I also began to discover living poets whose work I devoured.

     The more I fell in love with other poets’ work, the more breakthroughs I had in my own poetry. This is the point of points, new reader and writer, I want you to get excited about as you begin your own journey. Hopefully you’re reading good and important poetry. If not, get out there and find it. Trust me, it exists in surplus. As you find this poetry, take note of the poems and poets that move you in those ways you crave to be moved. That’s right: make it personal. Fall in love with the work of other writers and follow that love wherever it leads you. Seek more of that kind of poetry and read and reread that poetry or poet’s work until you’ve had your heart and soul’s fill of it. Take note of what these poems provide as a reading experience and the magical ways in which they do so. Then, bring these things to your own writing. Think about what you can borrow and make your own as you craft your own poetry or literary works. And don’t lose yourself in the process. Bring your own sensibilities, insights, and voice to your work, blending the impressions you’ve gleaned from these texts you admire. Keep it personal. Keep it real. Keep reading and writing to grow. Keep falling in love with literature that becomes soul song like your life depends on it.

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