I’ll Teach You How to Read Poetry in Under 5 Minutes

(and maybe your life will change just a little bit?)

This is for all the people who say they don’t like poetry (and therefore don’t read it) because they don’t get it. And everyone else too. I hear it all the time. I think you are trying to swim by moving only your fingers and toes and wondering why you’re drowning. I think most people are doing it wrong.

Step 1a: Think of the way you watch a movie. You sit there and watch, letting it all sink in. Cool. Imagine in the movie, you see a girl staring out the back seat of a car window, moving quickly along the highway, and you see her and you see the field passing with little white puffs of seeds floating against the backdrop of a grey sky. Do you feel anything? Probably, in a sort of unconscious way. Do you need to explain what it is about the scene that made you feel that way?  You can, that’s cool, but it isn’t necessary to feel it.

Step 1b: Think of a song, one where you can’t really understand the lyrics. Like BTSTU by Jai Paul. Like re: Stacks by Bon Iver. Or even Reckoner by Radiohead. If you’re like me and love these songs and have listened to them enough, you’ve probably made up lyrics that sound remotely similar to what they may or may not actually be. And the songs made you feel something, and perhaps the lyrics were related to that, or those lyrics you made up became associated with the feeling you got from the song. Whatever it is, you don’t try to figure out what to feel, you don’t think about which notes, which instruments, what the writer intended you to feel, you don’t think about how any of that relates to how you feel listening to the song. It’s simple. It’s just letting yourself become immersed in it and you feel what you feel and it’s amazing.

Step 1c: Read a poem. How about Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. Or Psychoanalysis: An Elegy by Jack Spicer. (I have a million more recommendations if you want. Ask me.) Let the feelings happen without trying to figure out how you got there. If you want to ask why, ask why. If not, you don’t have to. It doesn’t make it any less meaningful if you don’t understand the parts at work inside of it. Read it and chill. Poems don’t have to be gutted for meaning, just like of the rest of the media we consume. Whoever told you it has it be that way is wrong. Listen to me instead, because poetry is a beautiful world which so many people are missing out on when they don’t have to.