3 Ways to Not Hate Reading a Poem

by austin beaton

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3 Ways to Not Hate Reading a Poem

Fast Pointers |

-Don’t pause at the end of each line when reading. Read until there’s a period. If there’s no period then some one might be pregnant.

-Never feel like you need to know anything about the poet before reading. Art speaks itself. Usually it’s a chatterbox.

-Thrown off by the different lengths of lines in each poem? Still use the sentence as your guide.

1 Making a Murderer | Freaked out by “who” the voice of the poem is? Try thinking of it like the third-person narrator of a novel. If that doesn’t help–check out persona poetry, a kick-ass poem where the poet inhabits the identity of someone else. One of the masters of this style was Ai (pronounced “eye”–what you should use not hating reading a poem): a peaceful, 5’6” woman who often gave voice to killers and slave owners and arsonists. If you like to scare the shit out of yourself listening to stuff like My Favorite Murder, check out this poem she wrote as a kid who murders his family.

2 Don’t only choose Beethoven | Introductory lessons usually want you to start with the Beethovens and Bachs and other dead white musician equivalents of poetry. And the foundational bricks of any tradition are important. But, if this is your only exposure to poetry, you may not know that there are poets right now, walking around in a body like your body, writing and publishing books of poems. And they’re (probably) not using quills or a table and pestle. It’s a current form of literary entertainment that uses today’s language.

Learning the classics also happens in music education, but simultaneously we’re shown AC/DC and Whitney Houston and Prince by our friends, family (if we’re lucky). That sort of living room exposure is a lot rarer with poems. Try the rap and alt rock and indie pop of poetry, below.

Acoustic: Everything Can Be Called Aging by Carl Adamshick

Anti-folk: No Is a Complete Sentence by Kaveh Akbar

Indie rock: Sidewalk Poem by Matthew Dickman


Hip-hop: THE ASSES OF TEENAGERS by Rachel B. Glaser

3 Trust it’s not Hieroglyphs | Ancient Egyptians had their own poems. So, unless you understand hieroglyphs, don’t read a poem in hieroglyphs. First, start with a poem in your preferred language. Second, trust the words in it are the ones the poet intended. Many American lessons introduce poetry as a magic scroll hidden with secrets that mean something other than what’s been written. This is #fakenews.

In fact, it’s the opposite: the poet has spent many hours obsessing over the very line that Mr. Teacher has asked us to uncover as if there were a typeface hidden underneath that said something else. The words of the poem deserve your attention. I’m not saying that it all should be taken literally or that metaphors and theme don’t exist. I’m just saying the words in front of you are the ones to be read.

For example: the story about your frenemy who bought a drone to take selfies and ended up letting it sit in the the closet for a year may also be a tale with deeper meaning of vanity and consumerism and millenials ruining what the baby-boomers’ built. I don’t disagree. What I am asserting is the selfie drone also still exists in its box, along with Schrodinger’s cat.

It’s the same with poetry. When Frank O’Hara says he’s having a coke, he’s having a coke. When Robert Frost says there are two roads, there are two roads. Just don’t ask me which one to take.

Austin Beaton is a poet and essayist who others sometimes choose to publish. He likes artichokes, living in a California without traffic, and giving nicknames. Nobody has ever called him an authority on poetry or anything else.