Ask the Editor...

Do you have any poetry reading tips for beginners?

Q: I love to write poetry, but now I want to read more poetry. Do you have any tips for beginners? —Tongue-tied

A: Reading is the single most important thing you can do to improve your writing skills, and I cannot stress too highly the importance of reading poetry aloud. Editor J. Paul Hunter writes, in The Norton Introduction to Poetry, “poetry is, almost always, a vocal art, dependent on the human voice to become its full self.… Sometimes, in fact, it is hard to experience the poem at all unless you hear it.” If possible, listen to recordings of poems being read by the authors—a number of famous poets have done so. Check for copies at your local library.

From the Library of Congress, former Poet Laureate Billy Collins gives the following suggestions for reading poetry:

Read slowly; it will make the poem easier to hear and help you catch the importance of each word. You can’t go too slowly. An easy way to set a good pace is to pause for a few seconds between the title and first line.

Read in a normal, relaxed tone. There’s no need for a dramatic reading; let the words do the work and just speak clearly and slowly.

Poems are written in lines, but pausing at the end of every line creates a choppy effect, interrupting a poem’s flow. Only pause at punctuation, like when reading prose.

Look up unfamiliar and hard-to-pronounce words in a dictionary.