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How to Get into Poetry: 5 Easy Steps to Embrace Verse

Updated: Jan 8

Whether you're an aspiring poet or just want to start reading poetry but don't know where to start, this blog post is for you. I'll discuss how to start reading poetry and learning the language of poems so that you can appreciate poetry more deeply, and, if you feel so inclined, begin writing poetry!



Poetry can make us feel inspired and bring understanding to our world in a way we may not have considered. Verse has served as one of the first, most enduring forms of literature across cultures from Greek epics to ancient Sanskrit poems to Shakespeare's immortal sonnets.


Modern poetry carries on that rich tradition of capturing the human experience with imagination, wonder, and creativity.


Whether you're interested in contemporary poetry like Carol Ann Duffy or Joy Harjo, classic poetry like Pablo Neruda or Emily Dickinson, or want to explore Shakespeare's sonnetsthere's a whole world of poetic words waiting for you to explore.


Ready to become a poetry pro? Read on.


Step #1 in Your Poetry Journey: Make Use of Learning Resources


get more meaning from a poem by learning online

If you're reading this post, it's likely because you want to appreciate poetry, and maybe even write it. But reading poetry can be intimidating. It may seem like trying to open a locked box for which you don't have the key. But don't worry, it's not you...it's poetry.


"Is It Just Me Or Is Poetry...Confusing?"


Don't feel bad if you feel like you "don't get it" when reading some of the poetry G.O.A.Ts.


Reading a poetry collection is not like reading prose like a novel or essay. It is a different sort of art form that can have varying levels of abstraction. Poetry makes use of things like form, rhyme, and literary devices to convey meaning and emotions to the reader.


That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with the basics of reading a poem in the first place.


Luckily, there are lots of great free and low-cost resources for learning about poetry. Here are some of my faves:


  • Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook. It's a short book that covers what you need to know to get started reading poetry.

  • Poetry Foundation's website has a whole section called Learn. There, you can find a glossary with vocabulary, essays, poem samplers, podcasts, and more to help you understand poetry and its many genres.

  • Online educational websites like edX.org sometimes offer free college-level courses on poetry. Masterclass offers a course led by former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins on writing and reading poems. Even Udemy and Skillshare have low-cost courses.

  • YouTube. Need I say more?


If you know of other great resources, let me know in the comments!


Step #2 in Your Poetry Journey: Read More Poetry


woman reading a poem anthology

Whether your goal is to become an amazing poet or just an avid reader of poetry, the first step is: to read more poetry.


You may be askingListen, Elyse (that's me), what if I want to write poetry now? Why do I have to read it?


To which I would say...you could write poetry without reading it. But,

if you are serious about writing poetry, you have to read a lot of it.

Continue on to learn how you can read more poetry.


Purchase Poetry Books


My advice to anyone getting into poetry is: begin with poetry written within the past 100 years. You'll encounter poems that use language that sounds more familiar (and is therefore easier to decode).


If you're looking for a specific recommendation, Poetry 180 is a good place to start. It's an anthology of poems selected by Billy Collins (former U.S. Poet Laureate). It contains poems from 20th-century poets like Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, and Paul Muldoon. These poems will be easier to understand than diving into 19th-century love poems.


If you find a poet you love, try buying one or two of their poetry collections. (A poetry collection is a body of work by one poet that usually includes 80 or more poems written around a certain theme.)

,

And, dear reader, I'll take this opportunity to point you toward my published works, Poems for Squares (Lint Ball Press, 2023) and White Noise Crucible (Bottlecap Press, 2022). These are works of modern poetry that are available in my shop and select bookstores.


Poetry books on a budget


If you're seeking poetry books for cheap:


  • Attend a library book sale (I just attended one where paperbacks cost $1 and hardbacks were $2amazing!)

  • Scour used bookstores and bargain bins, there are lots of low-cost poetry books in these locations.

  • Make use of your local library! If you have a library card, sign up for the Libby app (if you don't mind reading e-books).

Borrowing from the library is always the most budget-friendly way to read more poetry.

If your local community has tiny libraries, you may find a poetry book or two there. I leave brand-new signed copies of my chapbook in tiny libraries around my neighborhood.


(Tiny library etiquette: If you take a book from a tiny library, it's nice to leave other books to share with your neighbors.)


Where to Read Poetry Online


Poetry Websites


Immerse yourself in culturally relevant works of poetry on sites like:



I often find myself on the Poetry Foundation website. (They also have an analog poetry magazine called Poetry Magazine which you can purchase.)


You can subscribe digitally to each of these sites for free to receive a poem every day in your inbox. That's an excellent way to start reading a poem every day.


Print Magazines and Journals


The traditional way to read new poetry is to purchase subscriptions to print magazines and literary journals (I will use those terms interchangeably). If you're interested in contemporary poetry, this is one of the best ways to access it.


10 top print magazines in history:



It can start to get pricey if you subscribe to multiple print magazines. You usually have the option of purchasing individual issues without subscribing, which I recommend doing before choosing to subscribe to one journal or another.


Many of these top journals also include some freely accessible content on their websites as well, so check them out.


Online Journals and Blogs


Many of the top print journals provide free content on their websites. There are, however, esteemed journals that exist mostly or solely online.


10 favorite online journals:



Know of other great poetry collections or journals? Let me know in the comments!


Step #3 for Getting Into Poetry: Go to a Poetry Reading or Open Mic


example of poetry slam

So, you've started reading poetry and are familiar with some poets. Now what?

There are lots of next steps you can take, but if you're looking to meet other people interested in poetry, you can attend a poetry reading or a poetry open mic.


Poetry readings are often organized at independent bookstores, cafes, and other centers for arts and literature. The Poets & Writers website has a handy database for Literary Places where you can look up reading venues and more in your city.


If you live in a small town and nothing comes up in your search, don't fret. Check with local bookshops or cafes in your town to see if any poetry events are being held.


What to Expect at a Poetry Reading


A poetry reading is just that: an event where people read poetry aloud in front of an audience. Typically, there will be one or more featured readers who will read selections of their poetry.


Sometimes, these events will include an open mic at the beginning or end of the event, so if you want to recite poetry, go ahead and sign up to get on the mic!


At the end of the featured reading, there may be activities like Q&As with the author, book signings, or mingling with other poetry lovers. This is a great opportunity to network and meet like-minded people interested in poetry!


What to Expect at a Poetry Open Mic


A poetry open mic is an event where anyone can sign up to recite poetry in front of an audience. That does not mean that you have to sign up if you attend. It's perfectly okay to just sit in the audience.


Open mics are an awesome opportunity to engage with like-minded poetry and story lovers. You can network, learn of other reading or publishing opportunities, and even make lifelong friendships.


How to find poetry open mics


Poetry open mics oftentimes take place in bookshops, cafes, and bars. But they can take place anywhere, like somebody's living room or online. Be on the lookout for open mic opportunities by checking Facebook groups and MeetUp.


Cobalt Poets is an online open mic based in Los Angeles that takes place every Tuesday evening. Check it out!


Format of a poetry open mic


Each open mic has its own rules and format, but typically, poets are allowed to read 1-2 poems or up to 3-5 minutes of poetry. Sometimes there will be a featured reader before or after (or in the middle) of open mic poets. Make sure to be courteous and follow the rules so everyone has an opportunity to participate equally.


If you choose to participate in an open mic, you have the option to read your own poetry, or you may read the work of another poet. (Just make sure to give credit where credit's due.)


Step #4 for Getting Into Poetry: Join a Poetry Workshop (or Start One)


fiction genre workshop group

Now that you've gone deeper into the realm of poets, one next step you could take is to join a poetry workshop.


What Is a Poetry Workshop?


A poetry workshop can take any number of forms. Some workshops are free (or by donation) while others cost money.


Normally, a workshop is a small group (say, 4-15 people) led by a facilitator. (Although some groups can be self-led).


It may be conducted in a class-like format by the facilitator, who may help participants generate ideas and create new work during the workshop. These are usually referred to as generative workshops.


In other cases, you arrive at the workshop with a draft or work-in-progress, and poets will provide feedback to one another. You can choose to incorporate these suggestions into your work in your revision process.


Some other workshops have a specific focus, such as tips for publishing your poetry.


Why Join a Workshop?


There are lots of different types of poetry workshops, but the main idea is that workshopping helps you develop your voice as a writer. Participating in a workshop and providing feedback to others will help you to think more critically about poetry. Not to mention make connections with other poets in your community.


If you cannot find a poetry workshop in your area, you can most likely find one online (check Facebook groups, MeetUp, or do a Google search). If all else fails, you can start your own workshop. Read on to learn how.


Sidenote: In my personal poetry journey, workshopping has been an essential step in becoming a better writer. I didn't go to school for English or lit, so workshopping has been my school outside of school. And it has led to creating many of the connections I have in the poetry world.


Starting a Poetry Workshop


If you cannot find a workshop that interests you, you can always start one. A workshop really only needs to consist of two or more people (although you may want to aim for a group size of 4-8).


To get people to join your workshop, spread the word on Instagram and use relevant hashtags. Or make a post in a Facebook group to advertise your poetry workshop. You can also post on MeetUp, but it costs money.


Once you have some committed participants, you will want to consider things like:


  • Online or in-person?

  • Time, place, and how often you meet

  • Goals of your workshop (e.g., generate new work, get feedback on works-in-progress)

  • Who will facilitate

  • How it will be conducted

  • Rules (e.g., no crosstalk, be courteous, only constructive criticism)

  • Will you serve refreshments?


Step #5 for Getting Into Poetry: Network on Social Media


social media poem collection

Getting a poem published in a journal or literary magazine can be difficult. This may or may not be a goal of yours. But if you're beginning to write poetry, you may hope to share your written word and make connections with people.

The quickest way to share your art with the world is to do so on social media.

Make a poetrytok account on TikTok or poetry Instagram account (then add me @elysehartpoetry and I'll add you back if I notice you've followed) and start sharing! Facebbok poetry groups, or even Tumblr and Pinterest are still great places to share and make connections. (Find me on Facebook here and Pinterest here).


The platform formerly known as Twitter used to be the place for poets and prose, but...more and more people are moving away from it for...reasons. (I'm inactive, nevertheless, you can find me here on X.)


Follow other poets, read and engage with their work, then share your own and use poetry-related hashtags and keywords to draw attention to your words. It's amazing the number of people I've connected with and formed online and IRL friendships with this way.


Let Me Know How It Goes!


I hope you have found these tips helpful and maybe even had fun reading them! I love to connect with budding poets, so please find me on Instagram @elysehartpoetry and DM me to let me know where you're at in your poetry journey. I want to hear from you! Good luck.


If you found this post useful, subscribe to the Passing Through poetry blog using the form below to never miss a post. To support my poetry, please consider buying a book from my shop.

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