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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.

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.

Pamela Spiro Wagner