Elevate Difference

Poetry for Beginners

“I, too, dislike it,” begins chapter one.

I remember sitting in class, words like “iambic pentameter” and “consonance” swirling about the room like an intolerable fly drunk on the stuffy classroom air. These words were important, we were told. To understand poetry, we needed to know the rules. And say we did learn the rules, well, we were sixteen-year-old kids and certainly not capable of unraveling the true meaning of a poem. Teacher’s pet and I didn’t even try to feign interest.

Ten years later, I’ve decided to give it another go. Fortunately for me and anyone else who picks up this book, Poetry for Beginners offers readers a fresh and forward guide to understanding and creating poetry. The book effectively contradicts most everything I was taught about the subject in high school—and that’s good news. Poetry is for everyone. Poetry is everywhere. It is more than words and rules. It transcends language and convention, and is a means through which we can better experience and comprehend the human condition. We don’t need to be a scholar to gain something valuable.

At first glance, this guide is tailored to a younger audience. The language is clear-cut, the chapters easy to get through, and the ink illustrations abundant. But in fact, Poetry for Beginners holds the potential to spark anyone’s curiosity for the written word and encourages us to create our own poetry. Not only is the guide accessible, it is comprehensive and inclusive. The book highlights a diverse selection of poets and minority movements, yet also includes a general foundation of must-read authors and their work.

The poems of Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickinson are set alongside those of Dr. Seuss, Public Enemy, and Leonard Cohen. Authors Margaret Chapman and Kathleen Welton explain what poetry is and who it is for. They do away with the top-down method of teaching and dismantle condescending assumptions about who can read and write poetry. This engaging guide fluently decodes poetic form and structure without inundating readers with unnecessary details. The informal voice and numerous poems allow readers to interact with the texts in new and inventive ways. The book concisely navigates through the history of poetry from ancient Greece to present as it simultaneously contextualizes poetry and reveals its timelessness.

Poetry for Beginners illuminates how one of the oldest forms of writing continues to be significant today. Rich and resourceful, this guide puts poetry within easy reach of anyone looking to learn more. Now, if only we could offer it in high schools.

Written by: Sofia Marin, April 17th 2010