Curious About Poetry? Start Here.
Whether you're a lifelong poetry lover, a casual reader, an educator, a parent, or completely new to poetry (welcome!), we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources that can make poetry a bigger part of your life.
Start with this essay by poet Naomi Shihab Nye, and then scroll down for some of our favorite poetry resources.
The Slowdown team
A poem holds a note, or series of notes. For a short time, everything else falls away.
We don’t have to understand exactly what the poem is saying, but what is conjured may be beyond understanding.
It’s a scene, an image, a voice, a remembrance, a banquet, a bouquet, a penetrating vision, a necklace of glimmers, a joyous gathering of phrases and syllables, a chant, an invocation, a mesmerizing transport. It invites something intimate to rise up within us in response.
A poem doesn’t solve, but shines a beam into new kinds of seeing.
Here are three ways I get young people interested in poetry:
Read a few poems out loud.
I remember what first hearing poems read aloud at bedtime as a three-year-old did for me; lifting me from my own mental swirl and clutter, worries and fears, the poems gave my thoughts a place to land. To hear a poem out loud and be instantly elsewhere, held, felt refreshing. To be part of the cadence…to feel the sparkle of words I had heard before doing something new.
So I read a poem or part of a poem out loud to young listeners, and pause. I would never ask that dreaded question so many schoolrooms imposed upon poetry – what does this really mean?
Such drudgery, the assumption of codes and puzzles! Who made THAT up?
(As Charles Simic has said, the worst thing we can do to poems is paraphrase them in duller language.)
But I might ask – does anyone like this poem? What do you like about it? What catches your attention? A phrase, a couple of words? Is there anything in this that reminds you of your life? Is there something you don’t understand?
I like many poems that I could not claim to completely understand. They give me more than “a message” —it’s a mystery.
When you read a poem out loud, ask a young person what it makes them think about from their own life. Encourage them to write their own poem about those experiences as a response.
Another way? Try writing a poem.
Start by asking questions from wherever you are right now. Make a list.
Such a mistaken notion, that writing always begins with big ideas. Often we barely have a scrap of an idea. Many questions and phrases floating around inside and around us.
Start with a few you carry right this minute. Perhaps list 4-5. Then make another list of simple images you have focused on today, since you got up. They don’t have to be important. That hummingbird looking for sweetness, treading air right outside the window, not even seeing you. That folded pink paper crown you found on your floor this morning – no idea where it came from. That sad face of a person saying he’s not happy with what he became.
Then mix it up. Could any of your images sit side-by-side with any of your questions and do something interesting?
Add anything you like. I start with something that small.
Try collecting scraps and fragments that intrigue you
The poet Jericho Brown talks about keeping shoeboxes of words, bits of language that intrigue him.
Poems are made from combining elements – interior, exterior – I’ve always kept clipped newspaper headlines. Save your old notebooks; go back to them when you have no idea what’s in there.
This will happen quickly. We don’t even remember what we wrote last week. The language, the story, comes back to us afresh, anew. Find lines that carry you away. We gather, then we select.
Take a closer, slower look at everything. We have so much more than we know.
Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People's Poet Laureate (Poetry Foundation), the poetry editor for the New York Times magazine, and on faculty at Texas State University. Her most recent books of poems are Cast Away, The Tiny Journalist, and Voices in the Air - Poems for Listeners. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.
For more resources for introducing children to poetry, including poems, click here.
Some of The Slowdown team’s favorite poems include Brokeheart: Just like that by Patrick Rosal, Mango Poem by Regie Cabico, Boy in a Stolen Evening Gown by Saeed Jones, or America by Claude McKay. We also really like this conversation with Sharon Olds.