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How Poetry Is Meant to Be Read

Poetry is like a complex skein of yarn clumped with metaphors and imagery that one may find difficult to perceive.
by Ada Pelonia   |  Dec 3, 2020
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I love poetry, but I used to look at poems like this skein of yarn I held in my hand and all I could ever do was squint my eyes and look at it in utter marvel. I didn’t know what I was looking at. Or where exactly was I supposed to look at? But this changed when I stumbled upon Julie Whelan’s “My Oxford Year” where the character Jamie Davenport said, “To truly experience a poem, you need to feel it. A poem is alive, it has a voice. It is a person. Who are they? Why are they?”

With this, I found where I was lacking. Emotions. I would read poetry passively as if I decided to read it only for the sake of finishing it. I knew I had read it, but afterward, I couldn't wrap my head around it. What was it about? What was the persona's tone? At the end of the day, I couldn't understand a stanza or two. Worse, I couldn't feel anything at all. This used to be the scenario every time my Literature professor would ask us to study poems. And every time, I'd find reading poems difficult. But like a beacon of light, Jamie Davenport came. He had been holding the end of the skein of yarn for me. I said this because his words felt as if he had woken me up in a deep slumber to hand me that end of the yarn.

Still, it wasn't easy, feeling the poems. Even if I woke up from those words by Jamie Davenport, I still had no idea what to do. All the poems I ever read were handed down to me by my Literature professors, hence I know nothing much. But I know I have to do something. I’ve collected my notes from my Literature classes, every poem we’ve ever read, and started reading it again. This time, I’m really reading. Between the lines or whatever it’s called, it’s working because then I can see what I’ve been missing out on -- the beauty of poetry and the impact it can have on the person reading it.

The first poem I ever truly felt after that “eye-opening” part courtesy of Mr. Davenport and all those poems I’ve reread and notes I’ve taken from the bottom of my cabinet was Ada Limón’s “The Raincoat” and I couldn’t get it off my head ever since. I felt the way the persona felt – a user who only noticed herself at the expense of overlooking her mother’s sacrifices. Only with different circumstances. I remember how guilt bombarded me, realizations surged in one after the other, and then I felt it – tears streamed down my cheeks, and I couldn’t stop the hard heaves of my chest from excessive sobbing.

For the first time, I heard the persona’s voice speak to me, as if person to person, hugging my existence and vice versa. Poetry is like a complex skein of yarn clumped with metaphors and imagery that one may find difficult to perceive. But it is — and will always be — a marvel, especially when you get to know which end to unravel.

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