Do You Have the Poetry Habit?

I’m thinking of two poetry habits I try to cultivate. The first is the habit of reading poetry.

I’ve met many aspiring poets over the decades, and yet I’m still surprised when they tell me they don’t read much poetry. Many of them remember a special poem that moved them when they studied it in school. And it warms my heart that this can occur, as even more often I find people who dislike poetry because of some school experience.

I don’t mean to distract from anyone’s affection for Shakespearean sonnets, the lyrics and odes of Pope, Donne, Keats; the still-fresh writing of Sappho and T.S. Eliot. But those who wish to write poetry, and to grow in their work, should and must read contemporary work. (Yes, this is just my opinion, but it’s one shared by all of the successful poets I admire.)

I read poetry almost daily. Sometimes I fall into an entire collection, or spend an hour on the internet browsing by topic or poet’s name. Every January, I read, read, read the poetry of William Stafford, because Stafford’s birthday is celebrated each January with readings and commemorative events all around the country.

When I’m preparing to teach a class or workshop, I read dozens of poems for each one I choose to share. And I still surprise myself when I reread favorite poems and find they still move me deeply.

The other poetry habit is, of course, the writing of poems yourself. William Stafford was well known for writing at least one poem every day. In April, poets challenge one another through the NaPoWriMo movement (National Poetry Writing Month). Here in the Rogue Valley, poet and friend Carol Brockfield creates an on line group for anyone who wants to take part in this challenge.

I sign up each year, and once wrote a poem a day for six days! Alas, as you can see, this habit is one I repeatedly try to establish, and although I keep failing, I haven’t given up.

If you have a poetry habit you’d like to share with others, please contact me and tell me about it. Perhaps following this column is a habit you’ve established. Here a few other tips:

1. Subscribe to Poetry Daily’s weekly newsletter at and browse the Poetry Foundation website (
2. Take a look at tumblr for prompts:
3. Go to readings and buy books from your poet friends. Read them!
4. Visit the library and bookstores and seek new “finds” in the poetry section.
5. Pick up a copy of Poets & Writers magazine, or a literary journal and subscribe to any and all you enjoy.
6. Challenge yourself to writing a poem a day or week. Further develop your own habit.


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