What online resources are there to learn about poetry?
April 5, 2020 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I want to read poetry and to be able to dissect and understand it. I have an Eng Lit degree but this aspect of it apparently passed me right by. Do you know of any good online resources that can help me access and understand poetry better? (Other than just reading lots of poems, which you can assume I will do.)
posted by Balthamos to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I enjoyed several American poetry courses on edx.org, presented by Harvard Professor Elisa New. For example, there's Poetry in America: Modernism, as well as one on Walt Whitman. There are others you can find by searching for poetry on edx.org.

This is not an online resource, but I've learned more about how to read a poem from books by Helen Vendler than from any other source since I got my Eng Lit degree.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 1:30 PM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a couple of online sources are mentioned in this previous thread
posted by demonic winged headgear at 4:25 PM on April 5, 2020

Best answer: It's a book, not online, but I highly recommend Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook; 130 pages and worth every page. Some info.
posted by gudrun at 5:41 PM on April 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo
Best Words, Best Order by Stephen Dobyns
posted by Rumi'sLeftSock at 7:28 PM on April 5, 2020

Here are a couple of essays that helped me approach an understanding of poetry, one by Sidney and one by Shelley.



These essays deal with the theory of poetry and its operations.

For a practical approach, a person could do a lot worse than to find some long poems, like Aurora Leigh, or Faerie Queene, or Paradise Lost, and read them aloud, over and over, like 10 or 20 times, until they don't sound stilted or sing-songie or foreign. From that point on, the meter will guide you to accent the parts that need accenting, and the poem might open itself to you through speaking itself with you as its voice and breath and ears.

To that end, it's not a bad idea to study something like the Arte of English Poesie along the way, to recognize the metrical feet that you'll encounter, in order to help learn to follow the steps of English meter.

This might all sound needlessly arcane and tedious, but poetry is very hard to learn. Few of Milton's audience will be fit for reading it, he says. In the same vein, Joyce said it took 16 years to write Finnegan's Wake, and that it will take a person 16 years of reading it to understand it (and if I read Shelley right, Finnegan's Wake is certainly a poem).

You mention dissecting poems to get at the heart of them. If you would, please consider another approach. Wordsworth says that our meddling intellect mis-shapes beautiful things, and that we murder those things in order to dissect them. It's vague to me what exactly he means there, but my sense is that a poem is to be experienced, and not autopsied. Life is breath, Shelley says. Give breath to poems and bring them to life, and they will answer for themselves.
posted by cthlsgnd at 8:12 PM on April 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've enjoyed Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled. It is more about writing than reading poetry, but what better way to understand poetry than to write some yourself.
Also the world needs more poetry.
posted by robotot at 3:31 PM on April 8, 2020

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