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How to Read and Appreciate a Poem

by Julia A. Keirns

First of all, what is poetry? Poetry is too complicated to actually give it a set definition. Poetry is the most loved, and yet, the most hated form of creative writing ever invented. Poetry allows the poet the freedom to share their personal thoughts and feelings in many unique ways.

Most of the time, poems come from the heart of the poet, from their real life experiences. When a poem is written, it is meant to be read with your heart. The poet is giving you, his reader, a personal glimpse of his heart, and he wants you to use yours to read it and fully understand its meaning.

Poetry comes in all different shapes and sizes. Don't confuse prose with poetry though. Prose is the kind of writing you might do every day, like students in school, putting words and sentences together in paragraphs to write a report, essay or story. Poetry does not even have to rhyme anymore. It can be written in lines and stanzas, groups of lines, rhyming or not, or just as words and phrases on a piece of paper.

You can write a poem about anything you want. You can write a paragraph describing your beautiful daughter and how much you love her, but put it into a poem, and the poem about your little girl will bring more life to her for the reader.

I personally enjoy writing poetry for children. Children's poetry needs to be kept simple enough for a child to grasp the meaning. When writing poetry for children I always try to remember who is going to be reading it. Children enjoy rhyme and rhythm. I have written many children's poems about animals, boats and toys, but I also enjoy writing poetry for adults. I have written Christian poems, love poems, sad poems and bad poems. Believe me, I have tried it all.

When reading another poets poems, we must not only read them, but feel them, talk about them, and listen to them. To fully understand a poem we must first read it carefully and slowly. Read it out loud. Then read it silently. Listen with our heart and our ears to the words we say. Read it more than once. The first time we will usually catch the general meaning, but as we read it more we will begin to understand it better. It is a lot like standing in front of a painting in an art museum and just looking at it for a while. No doubt, the longer we spend with it, the more we get out of it. Then it will be easier to share what we learned about the poem because we have studied it and understood it.

There are many, many forms of poetry including acrostic, ballad, blank verse, elegy, epic, free verse, haiku, limerick, lyric, ode, rhyme, and sonnet just to name a few. If we want to enjoy reading poetry, we need to learn more about it. I challenge you to search for the hidden meanings in the poems you read and imagine the author sitting down and actually writing it. Pretty soon you will understand why many people love poetry. Who knows, maybe there is a hidden poet inside of you too.