Reading Poetry--A Final Word

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My dear wife has just started reading the blog and states that when I get going on poetry, her eyes glaze over. And frankly, for the time being, I'm at the end of what I have to say, in general, about the subject. So this will be the last for a while at least on this theme in this way.

I have been asked where one might start with poetry. I think Talmida said it best below--you start where they poetry speaks to you, and that will be different for each person. However, if you don't know what will speak to you, where will you start?

Well, it is probably best to start where the language is rich, yet simple--where the poetry is obvious, but should you care to pursue it, deep. For this reason I recommend of the older poets William Blake and Emily Dickinson. Both are straightforward. Both have large collections of poetry available on the web. Both have seemingly simply lyrics that when carefully examined open up into interesting worlds of revelations.

Of the modern poets, for similar reasons I recommend Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats. Yeats is a bit more complex, but lyrics like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Second Coming" are rich, and yet not so abstruse as to dissuade the beginner from attempting anything else.

Another thing you don't find in these poets is some of the tortured syntax and particularly "poetic" diction that one might find in other poets.

Another poet I like tremendously, but who takes some reading and getting used to is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many of his poems are "story" poems, but there are some very fine, simple lyrics.

Spoon River Anthology is a nice collection for people who want poems to tell stories. You might want to know that the poems are all spoken by those who have died in Spoon River--many of them tend to be a touch downbeat.

Finally, a much neglected twentieth century poet--Edward Arlington Robinson comes to mind as a great favorite. Few people seem to read him any more, and yet his Merlin is one of the great Arthurian poems of recent date. More often than not his contribution to poetry is recognized in anthologies as "Miniver Cheevy" or "Richard Corey," both fine poems, but hardly representative of this great poet.

These are, of course, only some suggested starting places. There are a great many, wonderful, readable, interesting poets. Once you get started, you will find others. The web is a wonderful resource and the links in my side column will take you to poetry sites featuring poetry of many different cultures.

Enjoy as you explore. And for now, I live you with a nice envoi from Emily Dickinson--one of my favorite:

Emily Dickinson

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides--
You may have met Him--
did you not
His notice sudden is--

The Grass divides as with a Comb--
A spotted shaft is seen--
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on--

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn--
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot--
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me--
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality--

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone--

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Edwin Arlington Robinson. Yes! Read it and weep, Sparrow.

Shall we, because Eternity records
Too vast an answer for the time-born words
We spell, whereof so many are dead that once
In our capricious lexicons
Were so alive and final, hear no more
The Word itself, the living word
That none alive has ever heard
Or ever spelt,
And few have ever felt
Without the fears and old surrenderings
And terrors that began
When Death let fall a feather from his wings
And humbled the first man?

I feel as if your wife and I would become fast friends ... we at least have that whole "eyes glazing over" thing in common. Although, I am very partial to the Spoon River Anthology and Shel Silverstein. Guess it takes either a story or something funny to get my attention. :-)

Dear Julie,

And speaking of humor:

Both XJ Kennedy and Ogden Nash are good places to start. (Not to Mention Edgar Lear--"The Owl and the Pussycat" and "The Jumblies")

Ok, I can't believe I forgot about Edward Lear and Ogden Nash ... XJ Kennedy I've gotta look into. Thanks for the road signs ... :-)


I love reading your writing about poetry, but my eyes glaze over when you POST poetry. Now, it is not that I dislike poetry, on the contrary, I love to read it, to listen to it, etc. And you post fine poetry.

What I have had to realize is that I HATE reading poetry on my computer screen. There is something about the tactility of paper that is an essential element to reading poetry. I can handle fiction on the screen. I can handle philosophy, news, politics, arts crit, but poetry drives me buggy when it is on the screen.

Am I alone on this or is anyone else similarly afflicted?

Dear Erik,

It doesn't bother me, but then I could read poetry standing on my head in a hurricane--assuming of course that it is good poetry. Normally I post the poems for those unfamiliar, because usually, I comment on them. But I do understand what you say, because most people cannot read e-books on a palm for much the same reason. I DO have difficulty with poetry on the palm, but that's because the screen width forces line-breaks that are not authentic and so you end up with strange readings.

But thank you, I'll keep it in mind. I do realize, however, that a majority of people out there hear the word poetry and it's rather like using a watch as a pendulum, sleepy... eyelids getting heavy...



Oh, no, Steven, please do continue. I was just curious if anyone else shared my computer screen aversion. I do try to read it, but I find it very difficult. And even when I can't get through it, I have taken your recommendations and bought books (ah, yes, real books made of chopped up dead trees!).

Dear Erik,

And the limitations of HTML are such that there isn't the visual rhythm of some poetry--lines largely begin at the beginning of the text space and wrap at the end. So there are a lot of visual problems with poetry on the Web. But even given that, it's worth trying.

And no, I have no intention of stopping. I'll continue to post poetry, both my own and that of others. But thank you.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 29, 2005 5:26 AM.

Reading Poetry Part III was the previous entry in this blog.

At Long Last--A Meeting is the next entry in this blog.

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