How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner
First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.
Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.
To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.
Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.
Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.
When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.
You can now read poetry.
Poetry Connection 9
“How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual” by Pamela Wagner is a poem of instruction. It explains on how to “hear” the poem. The speaker says, “Do not assume the meanings hidden from you: / the best poems mean what they say and say it.”(7-8), to explain that you should not over think a poem. Great poems say what they mean in a clear picture, and it takes someone who is able to block out the filters that have been installed into our brains like a program in a computer. The speaker expresses this by saying, “or your white-collar misunderstandings.” (6), and uses metonymy with the phrase “white-collar misunderstandings” by relating it to those who over think poetry and try to pick it apart as if it were an economical, or managerial problem, when really poetry is simple and to the point. The so called “hidden” meanings in poems are usually unique to those who read it. A poem will relate to a person differently to those who have had different life experiences (which is all of us). The speaker also uses a mix of end-stops, and enjambed to add an every day flow to the poem, which I believe is to add to the simplistic feel that the speaker is trying to instruct.
My connection to this poem comes from every day of my life. I find that the more critical of every little thing I come by, the harder life becomes. When I pick apart the small things in life, everything else seems blurred like seeing life in a drunken state. The bits that I used to enjoy fade away, and my view on everything is not seen as it should be. As stated above, the “hidden meaning” in this poem to me is take life simple, only critique what is need, and things will brighten up.