How to Read Poetry like You're In a YA Novel


Poetry.

Let's all be real about it for a second.

If you've been following this blog then you know I write poetry. Sometimes, I think I speak poetry better then normal dialogue. It's my soul-language, and possibly the art from I derive the most joy from.

But also, culturally, in the age group most likely reading this (millennials/gen Z), poetry has become somewhat of an aesthetic. And by that I mean this: we like to frame it on canvas and take photos of our doc martens and pretty socks and Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey, we read quotes by Virginia Woolf and tattoo T.S. Eliot on our arms, but, at least partially, I feel like it's all somewhat of a facade. Has anyone else noticed that YA characters typically read about 3000% more poetry than the average teen? And you wonder, how do all these kids my age know to quote Dickinson off the top of their heads? How many sixteen year old boys read Leaves of Grass on a whim? I don't know what sorts of high schools you go to, but I don't believe I've ever met a single teenage boy who read Leaves of Grass without any prompting and for the sheer fun of it. In fact, I don't know that I know a single teenager who's read Leaves of Grass in general, and that includes me (sorry Walt, Whitman, I promise I will as soon as I can).

Now, if you're like me, you don't want to admit that the reality is, poetry is more accessible as an aesthetic than as reading material. Poetry is confusing. It's hard to understand. It's written in a million different ways, and, although beautiful, often quite difficult to read with understanding. Why don't you want to admit this? Because you want to read it. You want to be the person who can quote Robert Frost and know that The Road Not Taken is actually not about choosing the right path, its about the absoluteness of choices. You don't just want to read Milk and Honey, you want to feel it, you want to call Rupi Kaur on the phone and ask her just how she so beautifully translated her soul onto these black and white pages. You want to be that YA poetry kid!! You want to be a cookie-cutter John Green character who reads Edna St. Vincent Millay and listens to music from Woodstock on your vintage vinyl record-player and goes on crazy adventures to understand just what poets mean when they write about dark woods and open skies and heartbreak and fleas and what do they mean?? How do we, as young-people, as what some people might call the brain-washed generation but I'd rather call the curious generation, who are full of advertising and report cards and soundbites, how do we rediscover history, and rediscover art, and find ourselves in poetry? How do we learn to read?

I'm learning too. But here's my tips, from one novice poetic adventurer to another:

i.
Buy a poetry book. Go second hand. Take your best friend or your neighbor or nobody at all. Go to the used book store or the goodwill or the library sale. Or, even, Amazon. Just buy it. You don't have to understand it to buy it. Admit you don't understand it, don't pretend like you do, and buy it anyways!! Embrace the unknown!

personally, I recommend starting with: Dickinson, Frost, Kaur, Millay, Eliot, Williams, or any other that strikes your fancy. You could also consider getting a poetry book that includes a compilation of many poems. I'm thoroughly enjoying The Seagull Reader: Poems, which was a book I purchased for school but is easy to read and holds many prominent poets and poems with convenient biographies.

ii.
Read over once. Mark the text if you want (I am getting really into marking up poems). But, here's the most important one: if you don't get it, don't get mad at yourself. Don't consider yourself a fake fan of poetry. Don't stop! Admit you don't understand it! Be proud because you are one of the few people who doesn't have to pretend to be good at something right off the bat in order to enjoy it, and can be happy in the learning process! Remember, you don't have to read in order (unless the books is written to be read in order- if it's more of a collection of poems you're allowed to skip around).

iii.
WIKIPEDIA
seriously
it's your best friend
After you've read the poem once, search the poet. Read up on their life. I always find it super fascinating to read about poets (they live crazy art-filled lives). Reading about the artists always helps give insight into the art. Remember, poetry is, often, personal. It's not always meant to be understood on the first go. It takes some research sometimes.

iv.
Google: analysis of Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking"
This isn't cheating. I promise. This is learning. Read as many analysis's as you can stomach. See if you agree. Often, finding your footing with the help of a few outside experts can help you to form your own opinions and interpretations of the poem.

v.
Read again. Now that you have some interpretations of the poem under your belt, reading it will come so much easier and you will see all the beauty of the language. Mark it up again if you want. Find the metaphors! Make connections! Get excited because it's exciting to understand, to really, fully, read poetry. It's wonderful actually. I don't know if I've ever felt a joy quite the same as untangling another artist's meaning. As a poet myself, I always find it most meaningful to read with the poet in mind. Think back to the Wikipedia page and imagine how the poet themselves would've wanted you to read it (starting with the title? while listening to sad songs from junior high? on a beach chair in Hawaii?). More importantly, what message did the poet want you to take away from this? What emotion? What meaning?

vi.
Take your poetry with you. Wear your book pages thin and leave markings all over. Take the aesthetic photos of you and your Walt Whitman (because you finally read it! and you understood it!) laying in a field of grass with poppies braided in your hair or in the shoelaces of your sneakers. Tattoo your favorite lines on your skin (with sharpie or with needles, your choice). Go on grand adventures to the duck pond and to the beach and bring your poetry with you. Practice memorizing it if you want, so you can whip out your lines when you most need them for that aesthetic, poetic, romantic moment. Most importantly, remember art is not a competition. It's not a race. It's not a chart that you have to fill with gold stars. It's art. Let it be just that, and revel in it.

And you didn't even need to be a John Green character after all, did you?
(to be honest, I like you better than any John Green character I've ever read. sorry John Green)

If you're already a seventeen year old poetry protege, please forgive me for underestimating you. You are truly an inspiration to us all. Give us your recommendations and tell us how you came to possess such astounding poetic genius! We are your students. The comments are your classroom.

Everyone else:
Thank you for embarking on this post with me. Please tell me your favorite poets. And let me know if this post helped you/ inspired you/ encouraged you to read poetry.

lots of love <3

6 comments :

  1. YES FREAKING LOVE THIS CAUSE I SO AGREE

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    1. Awww I love this comment so much you made me smile a lot. I'm so glad you agree!!

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  2. This was. a fantastic post. You're right- there are a ton of people in our age bracket who are poetry obsessed and being the John Greene teen and meanwhile, I'm just sitting here like ??? what.
    But reading this post makes me want to try out what you've written! I don't think I'll be able to find a poetry book in book stores here though, so maybe I'll make my own poetry book and copy down interesting poems? See where that takes me.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Kanra Khan

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    1. Hey Kanra! I'm so glad to have been inspiring and helpful!! Yes! Do it! Also, you could print out poems online, there's usually copies of famous poetry on one website or another. Also, Amazon is a great option if you have an account. Love hearing your feedback always <3 Enjoy!

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  3. I have really been wanting to read more poetry in actual paper form, not just online, and I am totally going to refer to this. thanks for inspiring and motivating me to get out there and do it! I will let you know what I end up reading ^_^

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    1. Yay! Please do update me! I'm so glad this was inspiring, it makes me so happy to hear!

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