Reading and Writing Poetry

Today I would like to write to you about reading and how you use what you read to form your writing. I love reading poetry as much as I love writing it and I was very upset at one college class I attended because the teacher presented a very narrow way to read poetry. He wanted us to read poems and then go to class and agree that his interpretation of each poem was the only interpretation that could exist.

The reason why I love poetry is that a poem can be about anything. What the poem is about is born from the reader’s perceptions. The intention of the poem is interpreted by the reader. As writers we have control over what we write about but it is the reader who takes the experience of our writing and makes their own, unique reaction to it. For example, I once wrote a poem where I made the connection between eating a sour strawberry and being in a harmful relationship with another person. One of my friends read it and told me she loved my poem about food allergies. Food allergies were not on my mind when I wrote that poem but I loved that connection my friend made, she took my poem and gave it her own meaning. Just because she had a different opinion about the poem did not mean she was “incorrect” about it.

A grad school teacher explained to me that “about” isn’t the narrative/plot but the theme/emotion YOU pick up as you read.

Here’s a quote by Natalie Goldberg that I absolutely love: “Poems are taught as though the poet put a secret key in his words and it is the reader’s job to find it. Poems are not mystery novels. Instead we should go closer and closer to the work. Learn to recall images and lines precisely as the writer said them.” (Writing Down the Bones, p. 33)

My college teacher taught me that the secret key thing exists. Does this mean that you can’t put puzzles in your work for your reader to work out? No. But it does mean that you as a reader don’t have to feel like whenever you read a poem you have to find something that is hidden. When you read a poem, or anything, you get to decide what the message is based on what you read.

So when you write, give you reader everything you want them to know so that they can have the most enjoyable reading experience that they can.


Your September contest entries need to be posted by 11:45 p.m. EDT September 27. Here are the guidelines.

Find more inspiration for your writing in these song lyrics.

Read the lovely homage to honoring those who are no longer with us and how we think about remembering here.


About 409writinglife

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2 Responses to Reading and Writing Poetry

  1. Great article Brigit. I completey agree! Poetry is all about individual interpretation and that is why it’s si amazing. Great stuff! 😊 xxx

    Liked by 2 people

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