About a year-and-a-half ago, I began reading one poem a day before going to bed. If time allowed, I might read two poems, especially if I was alternating between a regular poetry book and a longer “best-of” collection. Since then, this habit has become as essential to my routine as writing, breathing, and sleeping. More importantly, I’ve already noticed the impact it’s had on my writing as well as my life in general. (That last bit might be a story for another day. *wink*)
Maybe you love poetry, too, yet you struggle to find time to read it because of work, family, and other responsibilities. Or perhaps you haven’t read much poetry before and would like that to change. Reading a poem a day could be the perfect solution – because, like other habits that eventually stick, you might find yourself enjoying this short, simple act so much that your routine will feel incomplete without it.
So, how can you benefit from reading a poem a day? Why should you even try in the first place? Let me give you five reasons, starting with…
Reason #1: It Doesn’t Demand a Lot of Time
Most poems range in length from a couple lines or stanzas to two or three pages (though it’s not rare to see even longer poems). So whether you read the piece silently or out loud, it might only take you one or two minutes to read it. That’s a short enough span of time to fit in into any part of your day: not just at night, but also in the morning or afternoon. Plus, if life gets busy and you don’t find much time for your current fiction or nonfiction reads, a single poem can be a small but satisfying substitute.
Reason #2: It Suits the Mood of Every Time of Day
Reading a poem in the morning is like a “second breakfast” for the mind. It wakes up the brain by compelling you to contemplate not just the words on the page, but also the images it paints, the ideas it conveys, and the emotions exuded in each line. Sometimes it can even give you the strength, inspiration, or changed perspective to get through the rest of your day, as author and writing professor Alan Heathcock describes in this NPR article.
If you wait until the afternoon, the benefits remain the same. In fact, reading poetry at this time can be a kind of literary “lunch break.” It gives you a brief respite from the day’s activities and, if things have been especially stressful or frustrating, a chance to breathe and reclaim some peace of mind. And when coupled with good weather for an outdoor walk, it’s a great opportunity to exercise more than just your body.
And what about reading a poem before bed? In a way, it might be the most ideal pairing of the three. The quiet and darkness of nighttime often enhance the meditative quality that many poems have. Simultaneously, the peacefulness that comes naturally with reading poetry can help you wind down after a long day. So, in the end, you can choose to have your daily dose of poetry at any time. It all comes down to when it fits best into your schedule or when you think you’d be more likely to reap its benefits.
Reason #3: It Opens Your Eyes to New Ways of Seeing the World
Some poems are subtle teachers. They open windows to landscapes we’ve never seen, moments in history we know little about, and cultures that show us other ways of living. They compel us to confront the brutality of war, the many environmental crises, and social issues such as racism, poverty, and drug addiction. If any of these feats sound familiar, it’s probably because longer forms of literature accomplish them as well. The main difference is that poetry does so in fewer words and a more limited scope, yet with its own sense of complexity.
Other poems offer fresh perspectives on everyday objects and occurrences. Flowers, animals, daily chores, a morning walk – these and other things seem ordinary at first, until a poet’s keen observations reveal what makes them extraordinary. Take, for example, the first stanza of Jennifer K. Sweeney’s “How to Feed an Orchid,” which comes from her award-winning book How to Live on Bread and Music (which I highly recommend, btw):
Clarify the relationship.
It is you being fed and the orchid
who spoons blossoms in your mouth.
Imagine that. By nurturing an orchid, we are also nurturing ourselves. Doesn’t that cast a new light on the act of watering our flowers and plants?
Reason #4: If Read One at a Time, It Allows You to Savor Each Poem
Some people might counter this post with, “Why not read three or four poems a day, if they’re usually so short?” You can certainly do that. However, by feeding yourself a single serving of poetry each day, you can truly savor it. You give yourself dedicated time and space to absorb what you’ve read, ponder its message, and carry it with you all day. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself ruminating on that poem hours, days, even weeks later; and sitting with the quiet, lightning-strike awareness that, somehow, it may have changed your life.
Reason #5: It Helps You Become a Better Writer
It’s true! No matter if you write poetry or longer forms of literature such as novels and short stories, reading poetry can have a valuable impact on your craft. On a technical level, it can train you to pay attention to the rhythm of your sentences and the musicality of language; and teach you the power of concision, precise word choices, and vividly rendered imagery. And on a conceptual level, it can open your mind to a wellspring of inspiration and help you shape a distinct voice for sharing your unique insights.
Can you learn all of this from fiction and nonfiction, too? Of course. But no two forms of literature will approach one technique in the same manner. By reading a poem a day, you’ll ensure that your literary intake is robust and well-rounded and your mind open to all the ways that poetry can stretch and strengthen your abilities as a writer.
How You Can Start Reading a Poem a Day
It’s easy to start the habit if you already have poetry books at home. But if you don’t have any, or if you aren’t sure where to start, check out these online options to bring a daily dose of poetry into your life:
- Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day: This daily poetry series brings a poem to you every day via email. Contemporary poets are featured on weekdays, with exclusive commentary and an audio recording of each piece; while weekend selections focus on classic poems.
- Library of Congress’s Poetry 180: Established by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Poetry 180 brings poetry to high school classrooms across the United States. But you don’t have to be a teacher or a student to sign up for the newsletter (a new poem arrives each weekday of the school year) or browse the complete curriculum, which Collins updates periodically.
- Poetry Daily: This web-anthology of contemporary poetry shares poems that were previously published in books, magazines, and literary journals. The site also shares occasional prose pieces as well as links to podcasts by the Lannan Foundation, Poetry Daily’s main sponsor.
- Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day: Put on by the publisher of Poetry magazine, this podcast brings you a classic or contemporary poem read by actors or the poets themselves every day.
- VerseDaily: This website is almost identical in purpose to Poetry Daily but with no extras. Just one poem per day, along with a brief bio, critical praise “blurbs,” and shopping links to further promote the featured poet’s work.
How often do you read poetry? When and how do you fit it into your routine? If you’d like to read more poetry, how can you carve a couple minutes into your day to make it happen?