Saturday, February 2, 2008

How Do You Read A Poem?

I've spent more years in school than I'm going to admit, but I will say one of the lessons I loved most about my English courses was learning how to better appreciate a work. I know many argue that they dislike dissecting and analyzing a work. Call me weird but reading criticism or giving a work a close read is akin to the mechanic's love of tinkering under the hood of the car. The car is no less beautiful or amazing when the mechanic is cleaning, repairing, listening to the inner parts of a car. The mechanic admires the machine and so he studies it, experiments and explores. I have the same fascination with literature.

In that vein, how do you read a poem? Give this some thought. Have you been taught or developed a method of your own over the years? Is there something to be gained from a concerted effort to understand the dynamics, the mechanics of writing? What do we gain from analysis or close reading?

Someone recommended a great resource to me years ago and in kind for anyone who is interested in the possibility of increasing her enjoyment and understanding of poetry, I recommend the same title, Edward Hirsch's, How To Read A Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry.


Anonymous said...

I view a poem in two eyes; one analyzing the work and one admiring it without going into the gory details.

There are poems that are good reads by themselves, and then there are poems that are beautifully written.

The best poems are both.

I think both views are necessary to truly appreciate something.

Color Online said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
susan said...

Hi Noah, Thanks for weighing in.

Anonymous said...

i watched dead poets society last week for the first time in years. mr. keating has the boys rip the first chapter out of their texts. it's about "how to read poetry." i like that approach.

Christy said...

Personaly I do not beleive in the disecting of poems. I expect a good poem to move me, to grab me and pull me along for the ride, if it doesn't do that then I lose interest and have no motivation to continue the journey. If it does move me I will read it over and over again till I have taken in all it has to offer. Finding new meaning, hidden roads to travel. That's pretty much how I read poetry.

qualcosa di bello said...

i have a hard time treating a poem as a science experiment, dissecting it & such. i rather tend to let the words wash over me...sometimes preferring to hear them read by another, sometimes mingling over them quietly in my mind.

i often will get stuck on an element, turning that phrase over & over in my mind. close reading is something i do to gain insight into how words are used, but for pure enjoyment of the poem, it is more like swimming in the whole rather than examining a part.

a thought-provoking post & a read i will seek...thank you!

susan said...

Hi Q,
Maybe dissecting is a poor word choice. Does my mechanic's analogy fall flat?

Crafty Green Poet said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look out for that book. I'm currently reading Ruth Padel's 52 Ways of Looking at a poem - close readings of 52 poems. My trouble with this kind of analysis is that it makes me feel very very inadequate as a writer though as a reader of poetry I find it fascinating, though perhaps sometimes overdone

I think that a good poem for me is one that grabs me, either engaging me emotionally or saying something important. Though I prefer a poem that has something to say but isn't perfectly written to a perfectly written poem that says nothing, badly written poetry is a real literary turn off for me. If I love a poem I will read it over and over and keep discovering layers of meaning

Dale said...

I read a poem by memorizing it.