A number of readers have told me that they like my Seven Basic Rules on How NOT to Read a Poem. Some have written to me that they have forwarded it on to friends or fellow writers, or re-posted it on their own blogs. Others have asked permission to reprint it for a class or writer’s group. I am always happy to find out that someone has found anything I have written helpful or interesting.
A small number of readers have also asked me to say a little bit more about how I do read a poem. And so for the past few months now, I have been thinking about how to explain how I read poetry. I have even taken a few stabs at the topic but am always dis-satisfied with the results. Because in the end it amounts simply to this: You read a poem with a pencil and your ear.
When I read a poem, I always do it with a pencil or pen in hand. Now that I am also reading poems electronically via Kindle (or half-a-dozen other reading apps), I always have the highlight function at the ready. I have a pencil in my hand to underline and mark the lines I like best… the ones that stop me in my tracks… the ones I find myself repeating.
Reading poetry is not about figuring out what a poet really means so much as figuring out what you, as reader, most enjoy about each poem and each poet. What line(s) or image(s) or combinations of sounds most catch your ear or eye? What line(s) do you find yourself slowing down to re-read… to repeat? Which line(s) or image(s) or combinations of sounds would you like to share with a friend? A lover? Which line(s) or image(s) or combinations of sounds will you remember tomorrow? Next week? Three decades from now?
Which line would you like to memorize and take to your grave?
That is how you read a poem: with a pencil and your ear.
And given that… from now on as part of my poetry reviews I will include a note of my favorite line(s) or image(s) or combinations of sounds.