How to Read a Poem: From the Classroom of Tom C. Hunley

Butterfly Bush How to Read a Poem

I just finished teaching How to Read a Poem in my ENG 493: American Poetry course. Here are a few comments from students:

“Poetry is out of my reach, or rather, it always was. After reading How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan, I do not seem to have that excuse any more. . . . The last two chapters have led me from being skeptical of poetry, to content with the idea of it, which I didn’t assume was really possible. I am truly amazed.”

“I think Tania Runyan did a great job of tying together the ideas of her book and making them applicable for readers. As she explains how to ‘waterski’ across a poem . . . she eases the worries that a lot of beginning readers have — namely, that they are not qualified or prepared to properly take in poetry.”

“Runyan does an excellent job of tying up her book by concisely giving the reader permission to simply enjoy poetry. . . . These last two chapters kept reminding me of a line from the poem ‘Ars Poetica’ by Archibald MacLeish, one that sums up what Runyan is saying very well: ‘A poem should not mean/But be.'”

“The cheese that awaited me at the end, as Runyan would put it, was not to overstress reading a poem, but ride along with it through its enchanting journey.”

“Throughout this entire book I have been able to look at poetry in a completely different way. Falling off the ends of lines made my heart skip a beat the way it does when I’m on a rollercoaster, and looking at imagery and listening to the sounds made me realize how much work poetry is to write to really keep it consistent and coherent. It’s music on a page without the instruments, and that’s amazing.”

Photo by ladydragonflycc, Creative Commons, via Flickr.