Have you ever wanted to give poetry a try but were wary of entering such a highbrow domain? If so, you are not alone. The fear of poetry is so common there’s even a word for it: metrophobia.
For me, the angst originated in high school. I still shudder at the recollection of an English exam where I was asked to interpret an Emily Dickinson poem that seemed to be about a spider but apparently was about something else altogether. A few years ago, I worked up the nerve to give poetry another try. I was thrilled to discover the poetry community actively shrugging off its image as elitist and intentionally obtuse. To that end, some of America’s most noted writers have published books that help readers approach the genre and find their way to poems that speak to their unique tastes.
I dove in and now consider myself a poetry fan. I’m no expert but I am having fun, and I feel close to figuring out what the deal was with that spider poem. Here’s a sampling of titles that can help you overcome your own metrophobia.
Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, by David Orr
In this lively book, Orr attempts to shake up longstanding notions of what poetry is all about. He addresses important questions such as what poetry is trying to achieve and why we should bother reading it. His aim is to give insight into what poets are thinking and to give readers the tools to find their own place in the world of poetry.
A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver
While technically a manual on how to write poetry, Oliver’s book has much to offer those of us trying to understand it. There’s a chapter specifically on how to read a poem—the key is not taking things too seriously—and several chapters on the literary devices that give poetry its unique sound and form.
Good Poems, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor
This anthology is a compilation of poems selected for their wit, wisdom, and simplicity. Keillor concedes he is no English professor and that the poems he picked may not be the so-called “greats” of the field. His focus, rather, is on “friendly” poems—both classical and contemporary—that tell a story and ignite the reader’s curiosity about the genre.
Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, selected and with an introduction by Billy Collins
A former U.S. Poet Laureate, Collins wants to dissociate contemporary poetry from the “scenes of torment” so many people experienced in school. This book cleanses the palate by presenting a variety of contemporary poems selected expressly for their approachability. The idea is that you’ll gain confidence in reading poetry and develop a sense for the types of poems you like.
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, by Edward Hirsch
This series of insightful essays is sure to ignite your developing appreciation of poetry. Though not a primer for beginners, it includes plenty of ground-level information, including a glossary of terms for the devices that “work the magic in poetry.”