How To Read A Poem by Andrea Skevington

Andrea Skevington

Earlier this week, a friend asked me how to read a poem.  It was a question I have been asked before, and so I felt I should know how to give a better answer than I did.  Of course, it may depend on the poem, and the mind and the training of the mind of the reader.  A good response to the question will take these things into account.

The exchange stayed with me, so I took some of the phrases of my answer, and wrote them in my notebook sitting on the garden bench later in the day.  I found they formed a  small poem themselves, inviting other words to join them – it’s what they seemed to want to do.

I begin with the mind – at school, so many of us ended up approaching poetry as if it were a form of cryptography, as if the pesky poet had deliberately concealed a meaning and we had to puzzle it out. Poetry rarely holds that kind of meaning.  In this, it is similar to story, as I was thinking in my previous post about parables.   The mind is a great resource in reading, and writing, and good academic rigor can seriously deepen our joy in a poem, but, for the nervous reader, it is not a good place to start.

Try starting like this, and see if that helps.

Let your mind rest.
Do not pursue it anxiously,
grasping for meaning.
There is no riddle here
that must be solved
or else doom will fall.
No puzzle to puzzle
for a prize.
Let the sounds of the words
soak you,
water you.
Let the colours of the words
fill your eyes.
Receive it all, then,
with a yes,
hold the words
cool and dripping
in your cupped mind.
Come back,
come back again, for
something that snagged
your dreams
like the dark brambles
over an autumn path.
Come back.
In time, the words may
open to you.
You may taste
their sweet sharpness.
They may grow in you,
nourishing you again
and again.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Andrea Skevington lives in Suffolk, and draws inspiration from the world and the community around her.  Her work includes poetry, stories – mainly for children, and inspirational work in the Christian tradition. she has worked with children in schools and churches, and has a particular interest in retelling the Bible.  She has led retreats and creative writing workshops for adults, spoken at festivals, and share my poetry and my thoughts.  She also writes for Quiet Spaces “A creative response to God’s love”, and has written meditations on Women in Genesis, the medieval mystical work The Cloud of Unknowing, the I Am sayings of Jesus, the poems of Emily Dickinson,  and many others.

Here is a link to her latest book:

The Bible Story Retold
bible retold cover

A companion volume is also available.  You can read more about it here

Prayers and Verses

prayers and verses cover