How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma
and steel-tipped boots,
or your white collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later on it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don’t even notice,
close this manual.

Congratulations.
You can now read poetry.

by Pamela Spiro Wagner

‘To my mind there’s no finer sight than kale moving at speed’ Opined Millward,                      Glen Baxter, 1978

Mary Ellen Johnson. California Rolls

John Philip Busby; Cloud Poem, Evening; 1964

Cecil Collins, Poem 1933

Paddle, splash about, swim, dive, surf. The choice is yours. But do at least stick a toe in. Permission to play. Language is what we humans do.
At your own pace. Stay in the shallows. Go in the deep. Lurk in the shade of the willows or Stretch out on the sand. Dabble about and dropout for tea. Or stay and enjoy the whole meal. Mix your metaphors. Play. Make words dance and hop, go on stilts, skip about and lose their footing.
Skim them over the water. Drop them down the well. Take a bite. And then another. Try something exotic and savor the strange and ineffable.
Stay with the bread and butter until you crave more. But don’t miss out – come on in. The water is fine. The table is laid. You choose. And I promise: You will not drown. It will not make you fat.

Walberswick, Children Paddling
Philip Wilson Steer 1894

Glen Eastman, Swimmers and Divers 2008

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