I like to think of myself as a person who loves poetry. I even write some! But when I sat down with a book of poetry I realized that I don’t really read much poetry. At all.

Why is this? I’m used to reading things and understanding them. Furthermore, I have a bit of a literal mind. (Killing jokes is one of my hobbies. I swear I think they’re funny, I just extend them through to literal conclusions and then the joke is no longer a joke.)

I think I haven’t read much poetry because it left me clueless and wondering. Sometimes I don’t get it. I thought I was reading poetry wrong and then I remembered that poetry usually isn’t literal. Extending my ideas into concepts that are unfamiliar and unformed is a good thing, though, and there is no better way than with lyrical abstraction. Plus, who doesn’t like pretty words?

So here’s my little guide on how to read poetry for those who are maybe too literal or just haven’t read very much.

  1. It’s ok to not get it.

It's Ok

This was really hard for me to accept. It still is. I like to be good at things, so I feel a bit silly when I don’t “get it” right away. But during my African Literature class with Professor Joseph Mbele (remember I built his website Africonexion), he reminded us that sometimes in poetry or even different kinds of literature you aren’t always going to understand it, especially the first time around. And that’s fine! Try to enjoy the words and sense the feeling.

2. Find words you can relate to.

Find Words

You don’t have to “get it” necessarily, but sometimes you’ll run across a word or a phrase that draws a really vivid picture in your head or reminds you of something you’ve seen or felt. That’s a good thing. Find those words and enjoy them.

3. Get lost. Really lost.

Get Lost

Keep reading and enjoying, and don’t worry if you get lost. I don’t think there’s supposed to be a destination anyway.

There you have it! A foolproof plan for even the least poetic to read poetry.

How to Read Poetry