There are thought-provoking poems, inspiring poems, and boring poems. There are poems that wear high heels and poems that wear sneakers. There are poems that tell a story and poems that express an idea through the luminous lens of an image. Like fiction or music, poetry represents a wide range of styles, subjects, and forms. People who don’t read poetry regularly may find it confusing and dull. But one need not be a poet or scholar to enjoy poetry. During my years as a reader and writer of poetry, I’ve discovered there are some poems that genuinely move me, and others I struggle to appreciate — even after several rereads. And I’ve learned to accept this fact. Even reading less engaging poems has helped me better understand my aesthetic sensibility and become a better human being. So if you don’t read poetry at all, it’s probably because you haven’t come across a poem yet that moves you. But there are poems out there that are meant for you, and the only way to find them is to make a regular habit out of reading poetry. You will be glad you did because reading poetry will enrich your thinking, relationships, and problem-solving abilities.
1. It will make you sexier. Poems are erotic by nature — because they tend to suggest more than explain. The poet’s job is to seduce the reader coyly with images, unexpected shifts, and wordplay. A poem flirts — and by example — teaches the reader how to be more seductive.
2. It will help you chillax more. Poems have a reputation as being these serious, melancholic objects that explore the profundity of being. And it’s true — many poems are about loss, death, and heartbreak. But poems also highlight the fact that these life challenges are universal, making one’s suffering feel less personal — and opening up the door to lighthearted thinking.
3. It will help you appreciate randomness. A poem can often seem random because poems don’t typically make clear narrative statements the way prose pieces do. In this way, poems mirror the mind’s flexibility and eccentricity — the way our thoughts jump from one memory to the next without warning. When you read a poet’s work, you are really exploring the uniqueness of another person’s mind and learning to make strangeness familiar.
4. It will make you a better poker player. To read a poem, you have to slow down and pay attention. You have to learn the art of pausing and taking your time. This is why many readers resist it. The effort seems too challenging at times — and on first glance — less pleasurable because it requires patience. But making the effort will open you up to the joys of a focused mind. Reading a poem is a form of meditation — and it helps train the mind to be more focused in general. This is also helpful in games where the more patiently skilled player is likely to win.
5. It will improve your dress sense. I like to think of a poem as a fashion statement — an outfit someone’s put together for the day or evening. Different pieces have to work together to pull of the look — and one misplaced accessory can mess things up entirely. A poem works in a similar fashion — words, line breaks, and metaphors all need to work in cahoots to make a poem “look” chic. When you think of fashion in terms of poetry, you will become better at editing your wardrobe and your daily “poetic” ensembles.
6. It will help you win more arguments. Every piece of writing is really an argument of some kind, and poems are no exception. In poetry, you have to work harder to identify the writer’s thesis, which may not be directly stated. This means, reading a poem requires making an effort to listen and understand. People who win more arguments give their opponents respect — they listen to them and try to find common ground before cogently making their own points. By focusing more on the topic at hand than your own desire to win, you are more likely to be persuasive.
7. It will give you an appreciation for word-nerds. Many wordplay poems are about language itself — the fun of puns and the verve of verbs. A poet might labor for weeks to find the precise word that completes a concluding phrase in a poem. And because of the brevity of a poem, each word carries more weight. Reading a poem is, in part, a study of language — and new ways to re-invent language.
8. It will make you more interested in cooking. Emily Dickinson was a passionate baker, and I’m sure her interest in cooking was connected to her reading & writing of poetry. Poems, like baked bread, often symbolize the good life — home, hearth, and heart. When you learn to “eat” a poem the way you might a passing meal, you will understand why writers of poetry tend to be the greatest readers of poetry. To deepen our appreciation of something we consume, it helps to try creating it ourselves. You may even be tempted to begin writing poetry.
9. It will make you braver and less afraid to be vulnerable. If you’ve ever heard someone read a poem they’ve written out loud, then you’ve probably observed that it’s an exercise in vulnerability. When you read poetry often, it will make you feel, and by letting yourself feel, you will grow accustomed to opening yourself up to others. By exposing yourself to the confessional world of poetry, you will also become more comfortable with others expressing their emotions to you.
10. It will make you more humbly confident. Poetry is sometimes viewed as a pretentious art. But poetry ranges in tone, diction, and voice from the more academic to the more accessible. And ironically, the more you read it, the more humble you will become. I love, for instance, feeling confused by a poem. I like to be reminded that there are things I don’t get right away — and that it takes work to understand them. By letting a poem be smarter than you — you are humbly learning to give it a chance. When you take the time to unravel the poem’s meaning, the “aha moment” will bolster your confidence.
11. It will make you appreciate beauty with greater wisdom. In part, poetry is a beautiful response to emotional experience. Whether a poet is sad, anxious, or happy, a poem is an artistic way to express a passing sentiment. Like a photograph, a poem captures a fleeting moment — making the experience eternal. Thus, reading poetry is a reminder that one solution to the challenges of life is to make something beautiful out of them — be it a pie, a pun, or a poem.
12. It will make you more sincere. One of the things I appreciate about poetry is that it’s one of the few spaces for sincere expression. We live in a culture and time period that favors sarcasm, witty repartee, and quick retorts over honest emotional expression. Speaking from the heart can make us uncomfortable. Reading poetry has the opposite effect — it makes us more comfortable with sincere expression.
13. It will make you better at studying other languages. Learning to read and understand a poem can be like learning a new language. To comprehend a poem, it helps to learn a bit about the poet and how poetry works in general. It also helps to understand that poets sometimes live in a country of their own where they are in conversation with other poets. Therefore, reading poetry increases your understanding of language in context, honing the skills necessary to make you a more flexible learner of foreign languages.
14. It will make you less misanthropic & more curious. Poems are external expressions of a writer’s internal world. Reading poetry exposes you to all sorts of worlds — and thereby people. To frequently resist a poem as “boring” or “confusing” is similar to consistently dismissing other people that may at first annoy us. Poetry helps cultivate empathy for different personalities and temperaments. And this makes us less critical and more curious — the number one trait of successful people.
15. It will make you a better detective. To understand a challenging poem using literary analysis, you have to be observant and look for clues. When you piece these clues together to formulate an interpretation, you have to base your thinking on evidence from the poem. Reading and interpreting poems helps make one a better Sherlock Holmes in life. When meeting new people or making important life decisions, you will be a more skilled critical thinker. And you will learn to think through these moments logically, basing your conclusions on careful observations and appropriate evidence.