How to Love a Poem

by Leslie Fannon

We fall in love with words all the time. We are word-lovers. Passionate about stories. Fans of paragraphs and characters and punctuation. We can love a novel so hard that it becomes more like a friend than a collection of one word after another. We talk about characters like they are real. We are readers.

I have talked about how to read a poem, how to understand a poem, how to study a poem. Recently, Reading While Female listed her Top Ten Tips for Reading Poems. They are excellent. Go read them.

That’s how you read a poem. But how do you love a poem?

Sometimes, you love a poem because of one line. You might read all the words that come before that one line absentmindedly, reading the poem halfheartedly, understanding the words but not feeling them and then that one line or stanza or word simply stops your heart.

Sometimes that’s all it takes. The rest of the poem will probably catch up to your love and admiration for that one line, but sometimes it won’t. Sometimes a poem is nothing but a vehicle for an amazing line. Sometimes a poem is nothing but that shortest, most perfect combination of words.

It’s okay to just love that line. You don’t have to love the rest of the poem. Have you ever seen a baby taste their first piece of fruit? Until that moment it’s been all milk and cereal and milk and cereal. Suddenly there’s sweetness and tartness and all these flavors that the baby has never experienced. The first bite is a shock. The second is a test, to see if the first one was a fluke. But it’s not! The fruit always tastes as good and different as it did the first bite. Babies eventually learn that not every piece of fruit tastes that good, but they have the taste.

You have the taste now. You’ve read that line that stopped your heart and you want more. Maybe you read more poems by that one poet. Maybe you start picking up new poets. You try to find the lines that, if you were a teenager, you’d write across the cover of your angsty journal over and over again. I still do that. Maybe you start to find entire poems, entire books of poetry, that are comprised of lines you love. You are loving poetry.

It’s possible that you will love a poem you do not understand. There will be poems you don’t understand. Embrace the fact that you really have no earthly idea what it means, but you love the way it sounds. Go with it. Love it. Take those sounds and say them out loud, hold them in your mouth, and release them into the world. Poetry is meant to be spoken, to be seen on the page in all its written glory and set free by your voice, to an empty room or to a crowded room. To your bedroom, to your lover, to your friend. Just speak the words and forget the meaning. Words have a power all their own, just in their sounds and the ways they work together, apart from their connotations. It’s okay to love a poem just because it sounds amazing, even if its meaning is forever elusive.

Sometimes, though, you can only love a poem once you’ve wrestled it to the ground. Once you’ve spent hours digging through the rhymes and the rhythm, the assonance, the consonance, the enjambment, the meter, the symbolism, the imagery, once you’ve done your research, once you’ve read the criticism. Maybe you didn’t care for this poem at first, maybe it simply meant nothing to you, but something, whether it’s a school assignment or something that intrigued you about the poem, made you break out your highlighters, dictionary, and Wikipedia to figure out what the hell that poem means. It’s perfectly possible to spend hours or a lifetime untangling a poem to try and understand it and come out the other side disliking the poem or even hating it. Maybe, though, you’ll have a new appreciation for a poem, an appreciation that turns to love.

The best way to fall in love a poem is to forget what you know about poetry. Just feel it. Hear it. Taste it. Then remember everything you know about poetry. Fall in love all over again. What is a poem? Just a collection of words, put together in such a way that they make someone’s heart skip a beat.

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