Six Reasons You Should Consider Reading Poetry


Unless you’re currently in high school or taking an English class in college, chances are that you don’t read much poetry. Maybe you think poetry isn’t for you – it seems boring, unfathomable, too erudite, or pointless.

However, there are loads of great reasons to read poetry. Before you dislike something without trying it, consider some of these:

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.
– Aristotle

    1. Poetry Doesn’t Take Long to Read
      Most poems are short (though “epic poems”, like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Spencer’s The Faerie Queen can be longer than novels). You can easily read a short poem – or several! – during your coffee break, or while standing in line at the bank, or while eating a sandwich at lunch time.If you “don’t have the time to read”, try switching to poetry instead of novels; you might find that it does the trick. 
  • Poetry Improves Your Vocabulary
    One of the most basic reasons to read poetry is that it’s a great way to improve your vocabulary. If your usual reading material consists of magazines, newspapers, and blogs, you’re unlikely to be encountering any new words. 

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across these unusual words in poems:

    • Amnion (the thin membrane that surrounds a foetus in the womb) 
  • Skedaddle (scram, hurry away) – familiar to Americans, but more unusual over here in the UK 
  • Chongalolas (a chongalola is a type of tree found in Africa) 

If you’re studying English, especially as a foreign language student, the vocabulary-boosting benefits of poetry are well worth the time you’ll invest reading it.

  • Poetry Gives You New Ideas
    Like any great writing, poetry can open up your mind to new ideas. You might read a poem from a completely different culture, or written by someone much older or much younger than you. A poem could give you insight into a problem you’re struggling with. Poems use symbolism and subtexts to sneak under the rational mind and help you access the power of the subconscious, which responds strongly to images and metaphor. 
  • Poetry Shows the World In a New Light
    One of the tasks that a good poet is trying to accomplish is that they want you to see some aspect of the world in a new light. They can give you an unusual turn of phrase or image that focuses your attention on something in a completely new way. Commonplace objects and events take on a new meaning when tackled by poets. 

I choose to ignore my instinct for the sky’s
warning – the way each light flicks out
the strange smell in the air, a herbal brew;
you are crying to go out and the four walls
of the villa are coming in like a fast tide.
– First stanza of “Summer Storm, Capolona” by Jackie Kay 

  • Poetry Makes You Think
    If you find poetry hard, be heartened; reading it stretches your mind and forces you to think. When something challenges, surprises, even offends you in a poem – that’s helping you to question pre-conceptions that you might have, and to move beyond your comfort zone. Even if you come across poems you dislike, you can at least figure out what it is you hate about them. 
  • Poetry Is Fun
    My ultimate reason to read poetry, though, is simply to enjoy it. Whether you’re drawn into the story, engaged by a fascinating character in a poem, delighted by a beautiful turn of phrase, or laughing out loud at a joke – there’s a lot of fun to be had from reading poetry. 

This complete poem by Carol Ann Duffy [[is she poet laureate at the moment?] made me laugh; it’s not very different from a joke:

Mrs Darwin
7th April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

If you’ve not yet found a poet who you love, keep looking; try asking for recommendations at your local library or bookstore. And if you do have a favorite poet – or favorite poem – tell us in the comments!

Written on 2/14/2008 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: philosophygeek


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