Why Read Poetry?

April 09, 2012

I like poetry—or at least I do when I take the time to read it. Every year I vow I’ll read more, and I make one or two purchases in hopeful expectation of doing so. I keep a small stack of poetry books by my bed, thinking that a poem or two taken at bedtime will be just the ticket. (Usually, however, I doze off while reading the latest novel I’ve checked out from the library and never get to that poem reading. Maybe I should do it first thing in the morning?)

Newest poetry purchases
I’ve decided that’s OK, though. I’m not going to make reading poetry into another “should.” And you *shouldn’t* either! Even David Orr, New York Times poetry critic and author of the book Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry (a book I want to read) told NPR’s Linda Wertheimer, “I don’t know that people ought to bother. I think that poetry is one of those choices you make in life that’s…it’s not really susceptible to reasoning or arguments…. I think a better way to approach the question ‘why bother’ [to read poetry] is not to answer it—but rather just to say that if you do bother, it can be worthwhile.” 

So I’m not going to try to convince you to read poetry—but in honor of National Poetry Month, I am going to share with you a few ways you can make poetry part of your life, if you want to.

I continue to love American Life in Poetry with their weekly emailed poems (I post one here every other week), but you can also get a poem-a-day from Poets.org. 

To capture the poems (or parts of poems) you like, start a “commonplace book.” You can also add quotes and sayings that are meaningful to you, and end up with a beautiful and inspiring volume.

Start an online poem notebook here

Listen to poems read by their authors here or look for Poetry Speaks, a combination book and cd package, at your library or at a bookstore (or online). I found it thrilling to hear the voices of T.S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay and e.e. cummings reading their own work. 

Do you have a favorite poet or favorite poem? One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s A Line-Storm Song. I just love the lines: “Come over the hills and far with me,/ And be my love in the rain.” 

“The true test of poetry is sincerity and vitality. It is not rhyme, or metre, or subject. It is nothing in the world
but the soul of man as it really is.”
—Amy Lowell

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  1. Great post. I am always saying I should try poetry again, and then say it again yet seldom read any. Sometimes I think it must mean I don't really like it but some poems really touch me so I am never sure if that is the case. I guess I like poetry that is plain and out there; none of the hidden meanings for me. They go right over my head.

    I made a book and intended to fill it with my own poetry but after at least three years with two poems I don't think it's going to happen. So, I am going to use your suggestion and us it also for poems that I find and do like. I'll end up with a book I'll enjoy reading and maybe it will even have a couple more of my own poems in it too! Thanks for the idea.

  2. I'm glad you liked the post and got an idea from it, Timaree. I like poems that are easily understood, too--because even simple poems resonate with emotion. I hope you find (and write) lots of beautiful things in your book.

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and the quotes of others that you shared. My mother writes little bits of poetry that I've come to appreciate more through the years. Actually, her efforts inspired me to write one to my oldest son at Christmas as he was deployed overseas. It was my first (beyond grade school etc.) and I got a kick out of it. I think I'll send it to you in an email for a chuckle. ;-)

  4. Claire--How wonderful that you wrote your son a poem. I look forward to seeing it in my email!

  5. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for the online poetry resources. I rarely read it, because I don't understand it half the time. It is like math or something. Does that sound weird>

    Hope that you are having a wonderful week,

    Kathy M.

  6. You're welcome, Kathy. No, it doesn't sound weird, because poetry does sort of have its own language. I do think there are lots of accessible poems out there, though, and that's what I look for and what I try to share with others. Even then, it's not for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with that.