How to Start Reading Poetry

Listen, I know poetry seems like super big, scary and daunting section that’s always shoved in the very back of the library with deteriorating shelving and a couple dust bunnies floating by like tumbleweeds… but, honestly, that’s not what poetry actually is!

Poetry is about a “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature,” or, at least, that’s what Google and Oxford Languages has to say about it. In my definition, though… poetry is, essentially, an art form of words!

Why You Should Read Poetry

Sure, there are probably a billion and a half research studies that have been conducted to conclude that reading poetry probably stimulates this one part of the brain or strengthens this other part of the brain or has a positive effect on the body’s aging or something… which, yeah, might be true, but, honestly, I think the best part of reading poetry is this:

You get a chance to understand someone else, or maybe even understand yourself better, just by looking at a couple of words on an otherwise blank page.

It’s as simple as that, really!

You see, reading poetry that someone else has penned gives you a chance to see into that poet’s world, whether that world is real or a bit made-up. It’s a lot like watching actors in a show or movie that are recreating a different world for you to enjoy… except, with poetry, you get to visualize the world on the page in whatever way you’d like.

Reading poetry also sometimes gives us a chance to figure ourselves out, especially on a “deep” level. For example, reading poems about someone else’s experience with a severe illness or disability can make us look at our own experiences with illness or disabilities and reevaluate what we might have thought before. Perhaps a poem of this type can make us feel empathy for someone we know that battles with a sever illness, or it can make us feel more comfortable or even proud to have a disability ourselves if we deal with one.

Of course, some poems are just kind of there “for fun,” too, and it’s always okay to read poetry and not feel like we either connect with someone else’s world or come to understand ourselves better. Trust me, I’ve taken a couple poetry-related college courses in my day, and I’ve had multiple professors tell me that, contrary to some popular beliefs, not all poems are meant to make us think or feel something.

The Best Poetry Books for Poetry “Beginners”

If you’re super new to reading poetry, let me tell you this: all you need to start reading poems is, well, poems–nothing else!

Yeah, you don’t need some big, fancy notebook or reading guide or whatever else a lot of websites will try to sell you. Like I said, reading poetry is meant to be for the sake of a good experience, and there isn’t always going to be some great pearl of wisdom that you’re absolutely going to need to write down right after reading any one poem. Maybe there will be one every once in a while… but, you know, you can always just write down any notes you have after reading in your phone or something.

So, let me just share my personal list of must-reads for those brand new to poetry!

Poems by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou has to be first on my list because… honestly, I think her poems are actually pretty easy to read, and they always sound beautifully musical. To get a taste of just a few of her most popular pieces, I’d recommend reading her collected Poems book.

Tenderly, joyously, sometimes in sadness,  sometimes in pain, Maya Angelou writes from the heart and  celebrates life as only she has discovered it. In  this moving volume of poetry, we hear the  multi-faceted voice of one of the most powerful and  vibrant writers of our time.

(Description and cover taken from Goodreads.)

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

This pick is actually one of my all-time favorites, and it’s super contemporary in terms of style. If you’re new to reading poetry, you may not even recognize some of the pieces in this collection as poetry just because they vary a lot in length and look on the page. It’s still all true poetry, though, trust me.

“Ah, life- the thing that happens to us while we’re off somewhere else blowing on dandelions & wishing ourselves into the pages of our favorite fairy tales.”

A poetry collection divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. the princess, the damsel, & the queen piece together the life of the author in three stages, while you serves as a note to the reader & all of humankind. Explores life & all of its love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, & inspirations.

(Description and cover taken from Goodreads.)

Transformations by Anne Sexton

Another one of my personal faves, Transformations is for anyone and everyone who gets down with reading classic fairy tales… in a not-so-classic way. Anne Sexton puts a twist on stories like Rapunzel and Cinderella, although the twists are, honestly, not for the faint of heart.

The fairy tale-based works of the tortured confessional poet, whose raw honesty and wit in the face of psychological pain have touched thousands of readers.

(Description and cover taken from Goodreads.)

The Road Not Taken and Other Poems by Robert Frost

The last thing I want to do is overwhelm new readings of poetry with a five-pound “collected poems of so and so” book, but… really, Robert Frost is a staple of all poetry studies, so I think his work deserves recognition by all readers today (even though he was first published in the early 1900s!). With that, I’d recommend a short Frost collection, AKA The Road Not Taken and Other Poems.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

These deceptively simple lines from the title poem of this collection suggest Robert Frost at his most representative: the language is simple, clear and colloquial, yet dense with meaning and wider significance. Drawing upon everyday incidents, common situations and rural imagery, Frost fashioned poetry of great lyrical beauty and potent symbolism. 

(Description and cover taken from Goodreads.)

Home Body by Rupi Kaur

You’ve probably seen a Rupi Kaur book at the top of one or two best seller lists on, like, Barnes & Noble’s website… and, to be completely honest, I don’t think her work is really made for beginning poetry readers. That’s just my opinion, though, and I only say it because I feel there are countless other works that beginners should dive into first before coming around to her highly unique pieces. However, I really enjoyed reading her Home Body collection a year or two ago (or whenever it first came out; I don’t remember anymore), and I think everyone else should be able to enjoy it, too.

Rupi Kaur constantly embraces growth, and in home body, she walks readers through a reflective and intimate journey visiting the past, the present, and the potential of the self. home body is a collection of raw, honest conversations with oneself – reminding readers to fill up on love, acceptance, community, family, and embrace change. Illustrated by the author, themes of nature and nurture, light and dark, rest here.

i dive into the well of my body
and end up in another world
everything i need
already exists in me
there’s no need
to look anywhere else
– home 

(Description and cover taken from Goodreads.)

No matter the poetry books you choose to start reading, be sure to come to them with an open mind. You know, poetry might not be what you expect it to be, and that’s just part of the whole discovery process (and the fun)!


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