How to Read a Poem

Reading poetry well is part attitude and part technique. Curiosity is a useful attitude, especially when it's free of preconceived ideas about what poetry is or should be. Effective technique directs your curiosity into asking questions, drawing you into a conversation with the poem.

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Where to Start

Book Recommendations

We asked dozens of notable poets to reveal the books they frequently recommend to students or new poetry readers.

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Groundbreaking Books

Know which books have most dramatically influenced today's poetry landscape.

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Featured Essays

The Great Figure: On Figurative Language by D. A. Powell

When we think of great poems that we love, we think of the ways in which the language casts a certain light upon some occasion or subject to create a new and impressive way of listening, seeing, experiencing the world.

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Another and Another Before That: Some Thoughts on Reading by Carl Phillips

If all we can ever know comes filtered through the lens of our own experience, and if we are readers, some part of our very selves will be the result of what we have read. Reasons for Poetry by William Meredith Poets, in the large Greek sense of makers, are crucial to a culture. They respond newly, but in the familiar tribal experience of language, to what new thing befalls the tribe.

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Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World by Mary Ruefle a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a single lifespan, to watch the great impersonal universe at work.

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Death to the Death of Poetry by Donald Hall

I believe in the quality of the best contemporary poetry; I believe that the best American poetry of our day makes a considerable literature.

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Browse Anthologies

Many poetry readers discover new work by reading anthologies.

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Featured Resources

Poetry Glossary

A brief guide to understanding basic terms, including the various elements of figurative language, poetic devices, forms, and meter.

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Poetry Forms & Techniques

Overviews of everything from traditional forms, such as the ode, to more experimental styles, such as OULIPO.

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Schools & Movements

Introductions to the founding principles and poets associated with various literary trends, from Romanticism to Ethnopoetics.

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Reading Guides

Reading poetry will make you a better reader. If you write poetry, reading poetry will make you a better poet. As former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky has said: "Poetry connects us with our deep roots, our evolution as an animal that evolved rhythmic language as a means of transmitting vital information across the generations. We need the comfort and stimulation that this vital part of us gets from the ancient art." Here are some guides to help you as you begin.

Walt Whitman

Whitman's great subject was America, but he wrote on an expansive variety of smaller subjects to accomplish the task of capturing the essence of this country.

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Emily Dickinson

Drawing from primarily musical forms such as hymns and ballads, and modifying them with her own sense of rhythm and sound.

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Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes became the voice of black America in the 1920s, when his first published poems brought him more than moderate success.

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