Recently I came across an old article, “The Importance of Reading Poetry.” This made me stop and think more about what I’ve shared with others about this importance. I have known poets who have told me they don’t read other poets’ works. When I asked why, the usual response was, “I’m too busy writing my own poems.” What?
If we are not reading other poets, we are missing out on a lot of great literature. There are so many great poets out there now that I can’t keep up. How can anyone ignore Wendell Berry?
Billy Collins? The late Mary Oliver? The rest of this column could be a list. But I want to take this space to give some suggestions and maybe some insight. I will draw on others who have responded to this question as well. Here’s a starting list:
1. Reading other poetry will increase your vocabulary and expand language.
2. Imitating other poets is a great way to learn to write poetry.
3. Pick up an anthology, such as The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, 2nd edition.(Edited by J.D.McClatchy). 1990.
4. Reading a variety of poems will train you to look for special forms, such as rhymes and flow.
5. Get outside your comfort zone and read everything you can. Even twice. Just don’t hurry.
6. Don’t live in a literary vacuum. Share your poetry unless you have decided that no one else will ever see it.
7. If you want others to read your poetry, then you must read what others are writing.
Think of reading poetry as the same as attending a symphony. Pick out parts you like and listen to the parts you don’t. Read some bad poetry and use this as a personal measuring stick for your writing. Also read translations and explore regional poetry, such as those from inner cities.
Lastly, unleash enthusiasm for poetry. Yours included. Don’t think of other poets as competitors. Remember, a rising tide floats all ships.
Until next time…Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).
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