Why all writers should read poetry

Maybe you hate poetry. Or maybe you just haven't found the right poem yet.

Surely an editor should love all of her editorial children the same, but I confess the April issue holds a special place in my heart. It’s the month this magazine was founded, way back in 1887. It’s the month Shakespeare was born (and also the month he died). And it’s National Poetry Month, which always makes my literary pulse quicken.

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            I think I didn’t really fall in love with the written word until I discovered poetry. Oh, I was a voracious fiction reader as a child, but it was Poe, Tennyson, and the Bard who revealed all the tricks the English language has up its sleeve. I once checked a book of Carl Sandburg poems out of the school library and was so horrified at the thought of returning them that I copied his poems by hand into a hardcover notebook in a horrid shade of vomit-green. It was hideous, but it held the world.

Too many people say they don’t like poetry when what they really mean is they haven’t read poetry – or at least read the right poem, the one that’s lurking beneath the surface, waiting to grab them by the jugular.

            A few years later, it was Gwendolyn Brooks who grabbed me by the poetic jugular with “piano after war:” On a snug evening I shall watch her fingers / Cleverly ringed, declining to clever pink / Beg glory from the willing keys. Such phrasing! As I read and reread it, it hummed with life, a living thing. She begged glory from the willing page.

            Then came Edna St. Vincent Millay, Kevin Young, Beth Ann Fennelly, poets who shocked and moved and woke me. Too many people say they don’t like poetry when what they really mean is they haven’t read poetry – or at least read the right poem, the one that’s lurking beneath the surface, waiting to grab them by the jugular, to shock and move and wake them. No poet has begged glory from them.

            There is such damn fine poetry in America right now. I’m suggesting you try and find it.

            Reading poetry will do such wonders for your writing. It’ll teach you so much about imagery and detail, pacing and stakes, economy of language. It can teach you how to knock out your reader in just six words. It will show you just how far our language can be teased, pulled, and molded. Give it a fair shot.

            Kamilah Aisha Moon shared some of the best advice we’ve published for poets in her How I Write interview, and it also may be the simplest: Subscribe to the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day newsletter. Each morning, read the poem they send. It’s five, 10 minutes out of your day, and you’ll be exposed to the emerging and established poets who are shaping modern poetry. If, at the end of one year, not one poem has stirred your soul, well, fair enough. Unsubscribe guilt-free.

            But know too that there is a poem out there waiting to beg glory from you.

            Be willing.

 

Here are more ways to incorporate poetry into your writing life.

 

 

 

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