Reading Poetry

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

“Fiction writers should read poetry for two reasons…First, poets often write epiphanies, and beautifully so. Second, poets choose one image and really rely on it to stain the reader’s mind.”                 — Juliana Baggott in the January 2016 The Writer

I read poetry often.  Not as often as I’d like, however.  Years ago, I would begin my writing day by reading poetry aloud for about fifteen minutes.  It did something to my brain, made it more open and fertile for my fiction.  The poetry signaled my imagination that it was time to play.

It doesn’t matter, either, what poetry you read.  It can be really old or really new.  Rhyming or not.  I’ve learned to be open to everything when it comes to poetry. Yes, I have my favorites, a sampling:

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians….”

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/  And sorry I could not travel both….”

“Dance like a jackrabbit/ in the dunegrass, dance….”

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/ It isn’t just one of your holiday games;”

“At five in the afternoon./ It was exactly five in the afternoon./ A boy brought the white sheet/ at five in the afternoon.”

Eliot's Cats book coverThe poets are (above, in order) Homer, Robert Frost, Grace Paley, T.S. Eliot, and Federico Garcia Lorca. And there are many more, some of which I have yet to discover. Some with powerful narrators, others with a penetrating, haunting atmosphere or story.

I read poetry to take me out of myself as close to instantly as is possible.  Poetry contains insights into existence with the economy of a meaningful look or gesture, a sigh or a moan.  But I especially love to read poetry because of its music — read it out loud! — in the sound of its words and the rhythms of its lines.  Long poems, short poems, free verse or not.  All of it sings.

Poetry primes my mind like an invitation to a party. To write, to create, to dance with the characters that come to visit. The rhythms, seeing the arrangement of the words on the page, hearing the sounds — a really good poet can create an entire world in four stanzas.

Writers encourage other writers to read voraciously, write something every day, to live their lives fully and to be observant.  I would encourage writers to listen to music and read poetry out loud…for much the same reasons.  Leave your daily concerns on the couch, at the office door, or in the kitchen.  When you sit down at your desk to write, bring an open mind ready to play.  I can think of no better primers for that than music and poetry.  For me, especially classical music.


Each writer needs to find his or her way to open all the mind’s windows and doors to beckon imagination to come out and play.  What do you do?


9 responses to “Reading Poetry

  1. Great advice. I’ve never enjoyed poetry, but I can see the benefits. Good New Year’s resoultion.

    • I used to really hate poetry. The cause: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. That poem bored me to tears. Even when I returned to it as an adult and re-read it. Still hated it. I think what’s crucial for my experience of poetry is to read it aloud. That makes it somehow closer to my heart.

      • You made several recommendations for reading. What’s your very favorite?

      • Oddly, my very favorite poem is one I did not mention in the post. It’s Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “I am part of all that I have met;/ Yet all experience is an arch where-through/ Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades/ Forever and forever when I move.”

        Of the poems I mentioned in the post, it’s difficult to pick an absolute favorite. Each one has something unique to offer. I probably refer to the Homer more than the others and it’s had an interesting effect on my writing. The Frost has been beloved for years and years, and I often think of the roads not taken in my life. The Eliot is the basis for the musical “Cats” and I love the rhythms in the poems. Grace Paley has a wonderful eye for the telling detail and the command of language to go with it. As for Lorca, this poem is a lament, an elegy for a bullfighter, and it is mesmerizing and a wonderful example of the powerful use of repetition. I learn so much from poets about words, metaphor, creating images with words, and being restrained. I would encourage you to read widely, whatever catches your eye, and remember to read out loud! (smile)

      • Thanks for the great recommendations. 🙂 Happy reading & writing to both of us.

      • Hear, hear! Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  2. I try to begin each writing day with some poetry, often using them as writing prompts!

  3. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 02/04/16 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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