11 April 2009

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual by Pamela Spiro Wagner

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,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-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 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 a 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.


Pamela Spiro Wagner is a writer and poet living in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  She is the winner of the 1993 Connecticut Mental Health Media Award, Tunxis Poetry Review First Prize for three consecutive years, and the 2002 BBC International Poetry Award.  Her work has appeared in The Hartford Courant, Tikkun, Trinity Review, Midwest Poetry Review, and LA Weekly.


  1. I wish this had been our manual in school. I might have learned to love poetry a lot earlier!

  2. I agree! There's nothing like being told you're interpreting Robert Frost's "Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood" wrong to kind of turn you off to poetry!


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