The Beginners Guide to Exploring (and Falling In Love With) Poetry

Updated: Apr 12

So what's the deal with poetry?
I don't get it.
Who talks like this?
I like to read for pleasure, not for mental gymnastics.
What does this even mean?
Three words: trying 👏🏾 too 👏🏾 hard.👏🏾

These are some of the thoughts that I had about poetry before falling in love with the genre and becoming a poet myself. April is National Poetry Month. My goal is to have you at least fall in like with some poetry. I know... I set the bar super low but I only have 25 days left.


How I Fell in Love With Poetry

I never imagined I would be a poet. Growing up, I thought poetry was something that God and rich white people did—painting scenic views or philosophical thoughts with few and mostly unrecognizable words.

As an adult, I would occasionally pen rhyming and/or satirical poems about student loans, hating my job or something similar, usually while riding the subway en route to said job.

Rap was the only kind of poetry that made sense to me. I was not a rapper but I love and appreciate the art. In college, I would be introduced to battle rap, which I quickly fell in love with—the storytelling, the clever punchlines, the occasional freestyled rebuttals. Pure genius!


It wasn’t until I heard the hype about Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur and decided to buy a copy at the airport en route to a client engagement that I started to read contemporary poetry. These poems resonated. They were about lived experience, internal and external conflict, not nature, and were so simple that I thought “I could do this!”


I would go on to read poetry books written by acclaimed Black poets I knew of, or at least should have known of, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni. On the shelves of Roosevelt Public Library’s Black Heritage Collection, I discovered more Black contemporary poets like Morgan Parker, William Evans, Yrsa-Daley Ward, and Jason Reynolds. These voices and poems felt like home. It got to a point where I couldn’t read more than 3 or 4 poems without opening my notebook to pen an idea or the first draft of a poem that was sparked by something one of my poet friends (because that’s how intimate of a relationship we formed through their writing and my own) made me think about.

Three years after reading Milk & Honey and telling myself “I could do this,” I began writing my own poetry book, Home For Hurricanes, an inspirational narrative poetry book. I feel honored to add my contribution to the huge mirror that the black and brown poetry community has built for our society. Also, I cried when my book won an award because in what world can I read my first poetry book and be an award winning poet 5 years later? God is so real! 🙌🏾

Now that I have discovered the poetry world and am a full-fledged citizen of it, I would love nothing more than to be your guide as you explore.


How To Begin Exploring Poetry

Finding the right kind of poetry is kind of like shoe shopping. Tastes vary from person to person, our desires change based on our mood and the occasion, and it's no good if it doesn't fit.

Here are five ways to start your journey toward falling in love (or strong like) with poetry:

Pick up these two types of poetry books from your local library or bookstore:

1) One or two poetry books by an author you never heard of AND about a theme you are very familiar with (either because you have mastered it or because you struggle with it). Maybe the cover grabs you or the name or photo of the author reminds you of someone you know, someone you liked, or someone who intrigued you. Flip open the book and read a couple of poems to see if the writing style suits you. If not, move on until you find a good contender.


2) A poetry book written by a recognizable name—either one of the greats or a book that you have heard mentioned—even if the topic or experience might be foreign to you. Read the description on back of the book to be sure you are interested in learning/reading about the poet’s experience on the subject matter.


Read a novel-in-verse or memoir-in-verse

These are stories (novels or memoirs) told in poems or verse. Novels-in-verse and memoirs-in-verse are a great entry points for anyone looking to ease into poetry. I love a good novel or story about life. Typically, when you read a novel, you get wrapped up in the drama and ride the twists and turns until you reach the end of the story and can then appreciate the revelation that the story provided. When you read a novel written in verse, the writing is designed such that the whole story and individual poems (which often are one to a page) are written to have that ah-ha impact. This means that on top of the drama, you get to experience revelation on nearly EACH AND EVERY PAGE! If reading a novel is like drinking a refreshing 16 oz. glass of iced tea, reading a novel-in-verse is like drinking an 8 oz. cup of hot tea. It forces you to slow down a bit, blow each spoonful, sip and savor the flavor-packed punch. When I discovered this corner of the poetry world, I did not look back. My book, Home For Hurricanes: A Memoir of Resilience in Poetry & Prose, is a memoir-in-verse.


Follow poetry hashtags on social media

You can read poems written by talented poets who share their work for free on social and watch spoken word performances and poetry readings. Here are a few Instagram poetry hashtags to follow: #poetrycommunity #poetrylovers #blackpoetry #blackpoetrycommunity #poetryisnotdead #poetsofinstagram #spilledink #spokenword #poetsandwriters

For spoken word, follow these popular pages: @buttonpoetry and @wanpoetry .


Read poetry anthologies

An anthology is a collection of written works by different authors in one book. Since writing (and reading) poetry can often be therapeutic, there are many anthologies that are written by groups bonded by shared experience, such as anthologies produced by inhabitants domestic violence shelters, prisons, or group homes. Their stories are among the most powerful you will ever read. They are written in voices that are truly authentic to them and appear to be less edited than books written by other poets and writers #soyouknowitsreal. You can search poetry anthologies on Google but I have found poetry anthologies at my local Salvation Army and other thrift stores.


Listen to poetry audiobooks

A very real roadblock to reading poetry is the feeling that you don't know how. Even as a poet, I still don't always know how a particular poem should be read because punctuation, line breaks, and spacing take on different meaning in poetry and sometimes take on different meaning from poem to poem. Audiobooks take the guesswork out. Most audiobooks are narrated by the author so you get a front row seat as the poet reads their own poems with their intended emotion, cadence, voice, and tone. The experience is even better if you can follow along with a hardcopy of the book from the library or bookstore. Be sure to hit pause between poems to digest them because audiobooks will keep going while your mind is still “having a moment.”


 

In summing up my thoughts on why I love poetry, it seems only fitting that I do so in verse:


great poetry pulls us into a sacred space

of gathering with all our secret selves

calls us to unearth

who we are,

what we believe, all that lies

buried beneath busy


takes us in hand,

walks us down paths

through the beautiful,

beside the broken and

only asks that we do not forget


reader


remember our littered past


remember the iterations


remember those we shed

those we love those in need of love


remember the vial of hate we drank

that did not kill us


remember survival—her joy,

her wisdom


remember we were here

before the glory


remember we are here

in all our glory


remember so you never forget


remember so you never repeat

remember


great poetry



In reading the left column by itself, you’ll see another poem. See, now you’re a pro!


 

Monique “Nikki” Murphy is an awarded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Speaker based in New York, a poet, financial literacy advocate, wife, mother, and award-winning author of Home For Hurricanes: A Memoir of Resilience in Poetry & Prose, a Black coming of age story book available online. As a DEI and motivational speaker, Murphy leverages her corporate leadership experience, DEI expertise, and elements of her personal story of resilience to help her audiences become intentional about thriving in life and work.

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