Monday, March 17, 2014

Tania Runyan’s “How to Read a Poem”

It should be straightforward, right? Reading it is like reading any other piece of text, correct? Well, no, actually, it’s not. And actually, yes, it is.

"It" is a poem.

Poet Tania Runyan has a suggestion on how to read a poem, or rather, she has six suggestions, all taken from the poem “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins, published in his 1988 collection The Apple That Astonished Paris (it's been republished a couple of times since then). Of course, in the style of poets generally, Runyan has far more in How to Read a Poem than approaches to reading poetry.

But first, her suggestions:

·       Consider the poem’s imagery – “hold it up to the light.”
·       Listen to the sound of the poem.
·       Reflect on all of the pieces that comprise the poem (or, as Collins writes, drop and mosue in and watch him nibble).
·       Look for what creates the Aha!” or “Gotcha!” moment.
·       Study the poem itself, and don’t worry about who the author is or what he or she is trying to do or convey.
·       Let the poem be instead of trying to wring everything possible out of it.

Runyan pulls these suggestions straight from the poem by Collins. What she does with them is one of the best parts of the book. She expands each of the lines of the poem, enlarging one’s understanding, and gives her own example of the suggestion at work. And then she provides several poems in each section for the reader to do the same.

In the process, she provides a wonderful if understated, introduction to reading poetry, and she introduces the reader to poets well known and not-so-well known. Poets whose poems are represented include Tennyson, George Eliot, Emily Bronte, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, Robert Browning, Thoreau, Anne Doe Overstreet, Edward Scott Anderson, Carl Sandburg, John Keats, Maureen Doallas, Sara Teasdale, and many more.

“Think of it (How to Read a Poem) as less than an instructional book,” Runyan writes, “and more as an invitation. For the reader new to poetry, this guide will open your senses to the combined craft and magic known as poems. For the well versed, if you will, this book might make you fall in love again.”

Well versed, indeed. The pun suggests another quality of the book, and that is playfulness. How to Read a Poem is above all playful, written by a poet in finds joy in her own work, and joy in poetry generally, and knows how to laugh.

Interested in poetry? Read it. New to poetry? Read it. Well versed? Read it. It’s a wonderful guide by a poet who clearly is in love with her craft and magic.

Related: My review of Tania Runyan's A Thousand Vessels: Poems at Tweetspeak Poetry.


Mary Harwell Sayler said...

Glynn, this not only helps us to appreciate the poems we read, it gives us aspects to consider as we re-read our own poems and revise. To encourage other members of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook to see this, I'll highlight on the Christian Poets & Writers blog - . God bless.

Maureen said...

One of my comments to Tania was that if all children were introduced to poetry like this, we'd have a nation of poetry-readers. My hope is that as many English teachers as possible learn of this book and use it in their teaching.

I was delighted when I discovered a poem of mine was included in the anthology. It's such a privilege.

Sandra Heska King said...

I wish I'd had this book in high school when I was terrified of poetry.

Dolly @Soulstops said...

I agree with Sandra...I don't recall being exposed much to poetry in high school or growing up. Thanks, Glynn, for the review of Tania's book.

Jody Lee Collins said...

Glynn, Tania's book made me so much more comfortable with 'trying' poetry. I'm smiling at your review--all true words (and a great photo!). Thank you.