June 27, 2004

How to Read Poem

This is a rewritten version of the poem put on the Hartford Courant's website. I tried to cut out every unnecessary word, make it as lean and clean as possible. I have changed alot, but especially stanzas 5 and 6 because I thought they were weak in the original. Hope you like it. I meant every word!

PS The being evil thoughts I wrote about on the 20th are still with me, as they always are, but have receded more or less to the background. Thanks for all your encouraging comments.


First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma
and steel-tipped boots,
your blue collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later on it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

You can now read poetry.


Posted by pamwagg at June 27, 2004 01:39 AM | TrackBack


Beautiful. I am working on a libretto and struggling with my language, and I learned something when I read, "...the best poems mean what they say and say it."

I also think the the entire poem shows that one must engage in poetry with their soul, and that's really how one will be able to understand it. Thanks!

Posted by: Prometheus at May 26, 2006 07:02 PM

loverly stuff. love the tomatoe colors and the squash. can i make some ratatouille? louie?

Posted by: whatsitallaboutalfia at June 29, 2004 01:50 AM

I will say one thing about you that has reigned supreme since our very first contact, Pamela. You never do anything half way. It's 100% or nothing. Anyone who takes your poetic reading instructions seriously and applies your advice assiduously, will be a reader of poetry for life. It is an addiction of which one can be proud. Perhaps you should apply for a patent on your method. Your Pesky Pal (Bob Dylan would never have occurred to me-maybe Bob Frost).

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at June 27, 2004 07:42 PM

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