How to Read a Poem: The Book

How to read a poem. A lot of books want to teach you just that. How is Tania Runyan’s different?

Think of it less as an instructional book and more as an invitation. For the reader new to poetry, Runyan’s guide will open your senses to the combined craft and magic known as “poems”. For the well versed, if you will, the book might make you fall in love again.

How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. It’s an excellent teaching tool. With a brilliant anthology included.

Words About How to Read a Poem:

While this book says it’s an invitation, it’s really much more. It’s a conversation—between you (lucky reader), Tania Runyan (funny, helpful friend) and these poems (brilliantly brought to the table by Runyan). No reader, experienced or new to reading poems, will want to miss this winsome and surprising way into the rich, wonderful conversations that poetry makes possible.

—David Wright, Poet and Assistant Professor of English at Monmouth College, IL

Having taught poetry in high schools for over twenty-five years, I’ve grown tired of Intro-to-Poetry texts that feel they must overwhelm the student with the authors’ erudition or the art’s storied history of technique. If there is truly a need for the news only poetry can deliver, then those tomes make dismal advertisements.

Tania Runyan has broken with this flat tradition and, in affectionate conversation with the wit of Billy Collins, produced a model for engaging in discovery of poetry’s value—no prior book-learning or companion text required. Which is not to say her ambition is slight; she would thrill to see novices become lifelong readers, even passionate scholars of the art and poets themselves, but she gets it. Her book reads like a playful love letter—a creative intercession on poetry’s behalf—to the hearts of a new generation, those on whom so much, like the future of the art, depends.

—Brad Davis, Poet, teacher, and counselor at Pomfret School

I used Chapter 6 of this book in my creative writing class last week to introduce our poetry unit. We had a great discussion about how so many students felt they were forced to “beat a poem to death” in their English classes in high school, and how that contributed to their fear and/or dislike of poetry. Runyan’s alternate approach to reading poetry in this book created a more excited and accepting attitude towards poetry in my class!

—Marci Johnson, Poet and Visiting Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University

I teach Introduction to Literature, among other courses, and this will be my main textbook for the poetry unit from now on. I love the emphasis on experiencing poems rather than on interpreting or evaluating them. Runyan’s use of the Collins poem as a structural device is brilliant and carried through well. I like a lot of the poems she selected as examples, and her own prose is unintimidating and witty.

—Thomas C. Hunley, Poet and Associate Professor at Western Kentucky University

About the Author

Tania Runyan has served as an editor for Every Day Poems and is the author of four books of poetry, including A Thousand Vessels and Simple Weight. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, and Southern Poetry Review. She received an NEA Literature fellowship in 2011.

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

ISBN-13: 978-09898542-2-1
Paperback $13.95/e-book, $9.99)
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Photo by Rocpoc, Creative Commons, via Flickr.


  1. says

    I am enjoying ‘meeting’ the people in ‘How to Read a Poem’, Tania’s guidebook (via Billy Collins’). The chapter on sound was a challenge, as I was often in waiting rooms or a Starbuck’s as I was challenged to read them out loud. I’m currently on Chapter 3–The Reader Mouse–about structure and form, which explores ‘the cognitive and emotional impacts of the poem’s architecture,’. I like the metaphor of crawling through the lines, scratching around and balancing on the words.

    I can never explain WHY I like a poem, primarily because it’s based on how it makes me feel ultimately. Tania’s tips are helping me amass a vocabulary to do so…..
    Way fun.
    (oh, and I’m writing more poetry.)

  2. says

    I love this whole book.

    But this… feeling around for the light switch. seeing the light… not necessarily understanding but connecting and falling in love. The goosebump moment.

    This book’s made me fall deeper in love with poetry

  3. says

    This book is destined for great things. Line after line of shimmering prose, wooing us to fall in love with poetry all over again or bravely and with passion…for the very first time. Pithy, portable and praiseworthy. I savor it like a box of chocolates, naming and renaming my favorite lines and phrases along the way.


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