How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual

Pamela Spiro Wagner

 
First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.
Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.
To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.  
Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.
Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.
Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.
When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.
Congratulations.
You can now read poetry.
 
From We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders by Pamela Spiro Wagner. Copyright © 2009 by Pamela Spiro Wagner. Used by permission of CavanKerry Press, www.cavankerrypress.org. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Further Reading

Poems about Beginning
At the Very Beginning
by Katie Peterson
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
by James Wright
Ephemeral Stream
by Elizabeth Willis
In the Beginning
by Anne Pierson Wiese
It Was The Beginning Of Joy And The End Of Pain
by Gillian Conoley
Or to Begin Again
by Ann Lauterbach
Poem Beginning with a Line by John Ashbery
by Randall Mann
The Rider
by Naomi Shihab Nye
You Begin
by Margaret Atwood
Poems about Reading
from Please Bury Me in This
by Allison Benis White
After Reading Lao Tzu
by Amy Newlove Schroeder
Book Loaned to Tom Andrews
by Bobby C. Rogers
Books
by Gerald Stern
Burning of the Three Fires
by Jeanne Marie Beaumont
Forgetfulness
by Billy Collins
Hans Reading, Hans Smoking
by Liam Rector
Inspire Hope
by Amy Lawless
Learning to Read
by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Light By Which I Read
by Eric Pankey
Love For This Book
by Pablo Neruda
My First Memory (of Librarians)
by Nikki Giovanni
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Passerby, These are Words
by Yves Bonnefoy
Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
by Tony Hoagland
Reading Novalis in Montana
by Melissa Kwasny
Shawl
by Albert Goldbarth
Stet Stet Stet
by Ange Mlinko
The Author to Her Book
by Anne Bradstreet
The Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About Paul Celan
by Shane McCrae
The Land of Story-books
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Reader
by Richard Wilbur
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
There is no frigate like a book (1263)
by Emily Dickinson
To the Reader
by Jena Osman
To the Reader: If You Asked Me
by Chase Twichell
Untitled [I closed the book and changed my life]
by Bruce Smith
Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page
by Cate Marvin
You Begin
by Margaret Atwood