New to poetry?

Hints and tips for less confident readers, by Maggie Nutt.

Making a start

If you are not yet a confident reader, the idea of reading poems can seem daunting: Where to start? Who to listen to? What to read?

This section aims to introduce you to a few of the poems in the Archive and to identify some possible starting points.

Poems are meant to be listened to and heard, rather than simply read, and all the poems here are read by the poets who wrote them. A good poem should involve, intrigue, or engage us, and above all should 'move' the reader; occasionally, a poem will make us laugh. Generally we respond to a poem because it captures an experience or expresses an idea we recognise, often one which is common to us all: falling in love, loss of love, the joys and pressures of life, or significant life events such as war or death. (Some of our favourite 'pop' songs often do the same: think about John Lennon's Imagine, or Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.)

Whether you like a poem is very much a matter of personal choice, so our suggestions below are merely a guide. Often, people will have different interpretations of a poem, depending on what they are feeling and what their experiences of life are. We have identified a few poems to start you listening.

First

  • Choose one of the poems, by subject, title or author.
  • Listen to it several times. (As with many things, poetry often 'grows' on you!)

Next

  • Look at the poem on the screen. Read it aloud if possible.
  • Find a printed copy, if you can, and re-read it.

Then

  • Think about its effect. Did it make you smile or laugh? Did it make you feel sad or cry, or perhaps remember something which has happened to you?
  • Why was this?
  • The poet Coleridge once said that poetry is "the best words in the best order". Do you agree?
  • Does it make you want to read or listen to more poetry?
  • You may want to read more of the same poet, or try someone else, using the archive as a source.
  • What will you do now? Go to the library? Find a book of poetry by the same author? Talk to a friend about it?
  • Your library can tell you about adult education classes in your area, or about book groups/poetry events, if you'd like to find out more.

Starting points

The first group of poems are about daily life, families, children and parenthood. You may decide to listen to all of them or just one which appeals to you, to start with:

Ian McMillan
Tempest Avenue
You can hear the gentle voice of the poet in this, talking about his baby son, his mother and his neighbours. You may also be familiar with what he says about being up at 5.00am with a new baby!

Adrian Mitchell
In My Two Small Fists
Here the writer is thinking of his childhood, and the poem may remind you of summer time or picking flowers, and being carefree. Listen to the sentence: "In that bright blue summer..." - we sometimes think of our childhood as being always sunny!

James Berry
My Arrival
If you have children, you may like this poem. Customs surrounding the birth of a baby vary in different countries, as here, where the poet describes his own birth in the West Indies, but it also reveals some of the similarities.

If you like the sound of this poet, try his Benediction, which is a short 'thank you' poem, rather like a prayer, about our ability to see, hear and feel.

Vicki Feaver
Slow Reader
This is not an easy poem, but it shows a mother's love for her child, who finds reading particularly difficult, but who can do lots of other things very well.

If you like this one, look for a poem of Vicki Feaver's called Coat, which is a short, sad one about a lost love. It's not in the Archive, but you can find it in her collection Close Relatives (published by Secker & Warburg, 1981).

Here's another poem about love:

Kit Wright
Red Boots On
I wonder if you agree that the song-like sound of this poem clearly shows the happiness we feel when we're in love, and how we notice and remember all sorts of small details about someone, in this case the girlfriend's 'red boots'.

If this poem appeals to you, here are some others about love and loss, which you might like to look for. They don't appear on this website, but you can find them in your library or bookshop:

Celia, Celia by Adrian Mitchell (short and funny!). From the book Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (published by Bloodaxe Books, 1991).

After the Lunch, Message, Flowers and Valentine by Wendy Cope (a lively group of short modern poems, from her book Serious Concerns).

Oh tell me the Truth about Love and Funeral Blues by WH Auden. The first one of Auden's is a series of amusing questions about what love is. The second poem is much harsher and sadder, as he describes the pain he feels on the death of his lover; it is a very intense, personal poem. It begins with the words "Stop all the clocks", and you may remember it from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. If you have lost someone close to you, I think you will understand how he feels.

Some of the poems mentioned here can also be found in The Nation's Favourite Love Poems, edited by Daisy Goodwin (BBC books).

War and major world events often are the chosen subjects of poets, and the next 4 poems describe various events which have happened, recently and in the past:

Adrian Mitchell
Playground
This poem is about the war in Iraq, but the poet talks about childhood, too, which makes it doubly sad.

Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Charge of the Light Brigade
This narrative poem tells the story of the massacre of the Light Brigade in the Crimean war, and is written with a steady marching style and pace, so that you can almost see and feel the soldiers going into battle, and to their death.

Where next?

If you'd like to find out more about reading and writing, and poetry in particular, try clicking these links:

www.bbc.co.uk/raw
RAW is the BBC's new literacy campaign, which aims to help you enjoy your reading and writing.

www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise
Factsheets, worksheets, quizzes and games to help improve your English skills.

www.newisland.ie/opendoor/index.shtml
Information about The Open Door Book of Poetry and its series of novels: the first choice of adults learning to read, foreign students learning English, and anyone who loves reading great writing.

Search for a poem or a poet:

My Archive

Create lists of your favourite poems and poets and share them with friends.

Browse all poets by name

View all poets

Browse all poems by title

View all poems

Glossary of poetic terms

View full glossary
Support The Poetry Archive The Poetry Archive depends on donations from public bodies and private individuals. Find out how you can contribute to the work of the Archive.