Monday, April 18, 2022

Reading Poetry for Beginners: A Guide for People Who "Don't Read Poetry"

Poetry is one of my favorite things to read and has been for as long as I can remember, so naturally, poetry books end up being things I recommend a lot to other people. With those recommendations, I’ve noticed that people not already familiar with reading those types of books kind of balk at the suggestions. Sometimes the people I’m suggesting these collections to tell me they “don’t read poetry”, and it’s usually for one of two reasons:

  1. They “don’t know how” to read poetry (or say they feel like they’re ‘doing it wrong’), OR
  2. They’ve tried it and honestly just do not like poetry.

Now just to be totally clear, this isn’t going to be me bashing on folks who don’t like poetry, because “to each their own”, right? I know some people have tried to read poetry and just aren’t into it, and that’s okay! I’m not really into reading books with war as a theme, so I get that tastes vary, and I’ll never mind if someone tells me they just aren’t into poetry – I’ll just avoid recommending it in the future! But if that applies to you, then this article probably doesn’t, because I’m going to try to give tips to folks who just aren’t sure how to start.

If you’re one of those people who just finds the concept of poetry a little too intimidating to try or really get into, then I’ve got a few things that may help make the whole thing a little bit less scary. These are tips I’ve offered to other people, and that I’ve found useful even for myself – even after years and years of reading!

5 Tips for Reading Poetry

1) Let go of your expectations for what poetry “should” be.

A lot of people have certain ideas of what poetry is or isn’t, but it’s honestly just too flexible of a format for those kinds of rules, so my first tip is to ditch ’em completely! You don’t have to read the classics if you hate them, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, and punctuation isn’t really as important as your third grade teacher made it out to be – I promise!

Also remember that with poetry, things are rarely meant directly or literally. Sometimes a seashell isn’t really a seashell, but a symbol of something else that feels important to the person that wrote the poem. Similarly, sometimes a seashell is really just a seashell in the poem, but for the reader, it suddenly means more!

Freeing yourself of whatever expectations you’ve got in mind for what you should enjoy or feel when you’re reading poetry can allow you to fully connect with it on a more natural, personal level. Some people love long, wordy prose, while others prefer short snippets with little illustrations that folks can find uplifting on Instagram. There are no rules; find what works for you, and don’t let other people’s opinions of it change yours.

2) Try a wide variety of different poets.

Sometimes finding something we like in a genre can be nerve-wracking because there are so many choices, and finding one we like in all the ones we don’t might be a daunting task. My recommendation for this is to try out a few anthologies that feature a number of different people writing about a singular theme – preferably, one that interests you! The more different types of poetry you read, the more likely it is that you’ll find something that you enjoy.

Once you do find a poet or poem that speaks to you, look for more like it. Search other work by the author – maybe they have their own full collection out that you can grab a copy of, or maybe there’s another anthology they’ve been in that you can check out. One thing often leads to another, and I’ve found some of my favorite poets and books through lists or recommendations featuring other things I’ve already established liking.

You can also try different styles of poetry, like written versus spoken. Some people are drawn to one type more than the other, and that goes hand in hand with finding what specifically appeals to you as a reader.

3) Try reading it out loud.

This one might feel kind of silly at first, so I won’t force it on you, haha. But I will say that a lot of poetry naturally (and often intentionally) follows a natural rhythm with the way its written, and sometimes that rhythm can be read better when it’s read aloud. Again – no rules, so this isn’t always the case, but it can be really useful to engage with the poem on a different level, especially if just reading it outright isn’t working for you.

4) Don’t be afraid to annotate, take notes, or look things up if you need to.

Okay, so I am a strong supporter of not approaching your “for fun” reading or poetry as if you’re doing a school assignment, because I think that sometimes a bad experience with school reading can really deter a person from trying reading again. That said, I am also very big into fully engaging with the things I’m reading, which for me means that I’m often scribbling down notes, dissecting different lines, or pinpointing things that stand out to me for one reason or another.

I love highlighting & tabbing specific parts of my books and then rereading them later to see what stood out before & currently, and my poetry books have ended up being some of my most annotated because each poem is a new opportunity to fully engage with a line – or several!

I’m not afraid to admit that sometimes a word or phrase just goes completely over my head and comprehension level too, so I like to look up anything I’m not totally sure of – but I only do this after I’ve read completely through the poem once or twice. I’ve noticed that if I read it through, just skipping over the bits I’m not super sure on, when I come back through for another pass, the parts I did get the first time now feel sort of familiar, which helps me connect even further.

5) If all else fails, it’s okay to accept that poetry might not be for you.

Finally, my last tip is just simple acceptance with no shade at all if you’re really not all that into poetry. It’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t make any person better or worse than any other for liking it or not. If you’ve tried to read poetry again and again, and you’ve found that it’s just not your jam, don’t worry. There are lots of other types of books out there, and I wish you the happiest of reading in finding them!

But if you just aren’t sure about poetry yet, and are thinking of checking it out, I’d highly recommend giving it a shot!

Although I’ve been reading poetry for most of my life, it’s only been recently that I’ve discovered poetry in the dark fiction genre, and I’ve still got so much to catch up on! I’m so grateful to the writers and presses right now putting out such stunning material to read. If you’re looking for a few poetry recommendations, check out our other National Poetry Month content. We have a Ladies of Horror Fiction Team Favorites post, and our If You Liked That Horror Theme, Try This Dark Poetry Collection listicle!


Cassie is one of our core team members, and maintains our site interviews with authors and creating monthly themed content.

Find her online at her blog, Twitter as @ctrlaltcassie, or over at her Etsy store, where she sells clothing, coloring & activity books, bookmarks, art prints, DIY craft kits, & more!

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