Poetry Book Clubs
If you're looking for something a little different why not try a book club dedicated to poetry? Contrary to popular belief, poetry-reading is not just for a small group of literary elite – everyone can enjoy poetry. It offers a wonderful host of images and ideas, insights into the human condition, thought-provoking themes and the recognition of shared emotions and life experiences. In fact, reading poetry can make you a better reader overall. Many people enjoy reading poetry in private but you may find it equally enjoyable to participate in the collective appreciation of a group.
Choosing PoetryPoetry reading groups follow the same basic format as standard book clubs, with regular meetings and books of poetry chosen in advance. The members can decide on the poetry books chosen by vote or simply by discussing various titles and reaching a consensus. For the first meeting, you can even ask each member to bring along their favourite or most memorable poem for the discussion. Almost everyone will have a set of verses whose words particularly resonate with them. Thereafter, you can either focus on a specific book of poems or – perhaps easier – do a ‘close reading’ of one particular poem and encourage the group to ponder every word, line, image and literary device used. Alternatively, you could also base your choices on poems which follow a theme or subject, such as love, war, nature, family, etc. Another interesting focus is to tackle a particular poetry school or movement at each meeting, so members can learn about and become familiar with all the different forms. Choose a set of poems by poets in a certain school or movement (e.g., Harlem Renaissance, Surrealism) and you could even ask certain members to do a simple presentation on the school, before the rest of the group discusses the poems.
You can also build a meeting around a particular poet and read a selection of poems by him or her, either from one book or several books. The host of the meeting could do some background research on the poet and open discussions with some interesting biographical information – or perhaps extra information on the settings or characters of the poems. If the poet is still living and coming to the area for a reading, it may be fun to arrange an outing for the reading group to attend a reading and have discussions afterwards.
As poems were often designed to entertain an audience, it can be useful to ask at least two members of the group to read the poem out loud, as different people will use different tones and interpret different nuances from the same words.
Reading and Discussing PoetryParticularly if you’re planning to recite the poem during the meeting, it is always a good idea to practise reading the poem quietly to yourself a few times, especially if there are unfamiliar words. When listening to others read aloud during the meeting, let the words wash over you, as if they are music and try to “feel” the poem rather than understand it – free your mind and allow it conjure up any images as it absorbs the words. Can you sense a rhythm to the words? Is there a clear rhyme in the poem? Are any images or phrases repeated and what is the effect created?
When discussing the poem, consider who the narrator or speaker is (it may not always be the poet) and whether they take action themselves or are reporting on the actions of others. Is the speaker telling a story? Revealing a secret? What is the setting for the poem? What kind of landscape does it inhabit? What kinds of emotional response to members have towards the poem? How does everyone feel about the ending? Is there a resolution or it is all left unexplained?
At the end of your discussion, it is worth reading the poem aloud again, without further discussion, and to let members experience the words again, in light of the recent discussion.