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How to read Poetry


I always have a book of poetry by my chair which I read through slowly – one page a day.  I have read through my collection of poetry books several times.  But I recently came across an article by the poet Padraig O'Tuama which has given me even more information about how to approach poetry.  The author suggested that before beginning to read the poems, you behold the book itself.  Look at the cover.  Be curious about the image or words there.  Read through all the “blurbs” and notice who has commented on this book.  Read the jacket liner to get an overview of what the book includes.  Read the “foreword” or “Introduction”.  (I admit to skipping all this most times in the past and jumping straight to the poems).  It does have very useful information about the poet and the situation they are writing in – or about the translator etc.  It often gives the reader a sense of how the book was put together.  Then look at the table of contents.  Notice if there are different sections and get curious about why and how they are arranged.  Look at the back of the book to see if there is an “appendix” which often gives very useful information about some of the poems.  I have often discovered that AFTER reading the poems.  If there is an appendix, it is helpful to look at it while you are reading the poems!! 


After you’ve done all this, you have permission to begin the slow read of the poems! 


So, just today I am starting a reread of the polish poet,  Wislawa Szymbortska’s “Miracle Fair”.  I’ve read the book a couple of times before, but never have I taken the time to do all this pre-reading.  I found an amazing amount of information that I imagine will help me appreciate the poems even more!!  Here is the last poem in her book;




            By Wislawa Szymborska

Some –

not all, that is.

Not even the majority of all, but the minority.

Not counting school, where one must,

or the poets themselves,

There’d be maybe two such people in a thousand.


Like –

but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,

one likes compliments and the color blue,

one likes an old scarf,

one likes to prove one’s point,

one likes to pet a dog.


Poetry –

but what sort of thing is poetry?

Many a shaky answer

has been given to this question.

But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,

as to a saving bannister.



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