Before you start writing poetry, you might want to get used to reading verses first. Although reading poetry seems intimidating and is often tied to, perhaps unpleasant, lessons in school, it can be a very fulfilling activity that opens your eyes to an array of experiences and feelings. Here’s how to get started.

DO take your time. Reading a poem is completely different from reading a prose text. Although poems at first often seem shorter than other texts, reading them properly might actually take longer than prose texts. The meaning of a poem is not always visible during a first reading; it is, therefore, essential to read it several times to really get to its core.

If you want to engage with the poem beyond a superficial reading, a useful approach is to read the poem once (or several times, depending on its length) and just take it in without annotating anything. After this first reading, you can start to underline interesting words and verses that you like and look up words you don’t know. To figure out the meaning, you can then write short summaries of the individual stanzas (given that the poem has stanzas) in the margin before thinking about the poem as a whole. However, there is not one single interpretation of a poem that is correct; therefore, as long as it makes sense to you, it is right.

DON’T worry about metre. If you are reading poetry solely for personal enjoyment and are not required to write an analysis, you don’t need to worry about metre or other aspects of form. Although metre can be an important feature that enhances the poem’s meaning, it is usually not necessary to pin down its intricacies in order to understand or enjoy the poem. But if you are interested in metre and other literary devices, this glossary provides useful definitions of key terms.

DO listen to the poem. Listening to a poem can change the whole experience. The best way to do this would, of course, be to go to a reading; but as these opportunities are limited, having a look on YouTube is a great start. If you find that you enjoy listening to poetry, you might want to explore primarily oral genres, such as spoken word performances.

DON’T overanalyse. You might feel the urge to understand absolutely everything about the poem, but as cheesy as this sounds, reading poetry is primarily about how it makes you feel and changes your perspective on the world rather than understanding its meaning. Rather than spending too much time thinking about the meaning, embrace the ambiguity.

DO subscribe to a ‘Poem a Day’. A good way to get started with reading poetry is to subscribe to a newsletter, such as this one, which sends you one poem a day. This will get you used to regularly reading poetry without becoming overwhelming and introduces you to different types of poems for free. Reading the ‘Poem of the week’ sections in newspapers, which usually also offer a short analysis, can be equally beneficial.

DON’T limit yourself to one form, poet, or period. There are so many different forms of poetry that saying you don’t like it just because you didn’t enjoy the Shakespeare sonnet you had to read in school, can hardly be true. For instance, if you don’t like sonnets, try haikus (i.e. a very short form which originated in Japan) or poems in free verse (i.e. poems with no consistent

metre or rhyme pattern). You might feel obligated to read and like a certain type of well-known poetry, such as Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it is completely fine not to like these ‘classics’ and instead only read modern verse or lesser-known poets.

DO read the poem out loud. Not only listening to other people read poetry can change the experience, but also reading it out loud to yourself can make a difference. If you read the poem aloud, you will automatically pay more attention to the distribution and meaning of the individual words, which will help you figure out the meaning.

DON’T give up immediately. As is the case with most new things you try, getting used to reading poetry takes some time. Even if it seems frustrating at first, keep reading different poems, and soon you’ll get used to the form and can appreciate its beauty more