4 Ways To Study Poetry For Free

How to Read Free Poetry

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to read good (excellent) poetry.

Unfortunately, poetry has a times been the victim of bad branding. It’s can be seen as stuffy, academic, cold, distant, or not belonging to the masses. Unlike a commercial fiction read, which we’ll pick up in an airport shop before we hop onto a plane or a bestselling political memoir, poetry can feel a little more elusive.

For one, the majority of people don’t read very much poetry. And if they’re exposed to it, it’s often the same few poets we’ve been taught (and taught and taught and taught — to death) in school. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with canonical poets. But when the canon is limited to dead white men, it doesn’t do much to showcase poetry’s diverse beauty.

These days, poetry is alive and well. And it’s anything but stuffy. For example, it exists all over the New York City subway system, and has seen a massive resurgence in pop culture, as it’s been embraced — and even written — by performers like Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey. Instagram has provided a new platform to a new group of writers who merge social media strategy and poetry. All in all, there is poetry for everyone — and it is everywhere.

With the rise in people interested in both studying and teaching poetry, more and more people are enrolling in often very costly MFA programs (Masters of Fine Arts) to study poetry. (I’ve done it myself — and whew, am I in debt). Because of this experience, people might think that you can only “be a poet” or study poetry at school. That assumption is absolutely false.

It is important to share poetry with the world — and to facilitate ways for it to be free, cheap, and accessible to all. So, because we love poetry — and because you love poetry — here are some ways you can study poetry on your own, for free, from the comfort of your own home.

Your Local Library Is A Poetry Treasure Trove

Stop what you’re doing and go directly to your local library. It may seem that the Internet has you covered, but the local library is there as a free resource, usually with programming and events. First off, ask the librarian if there are any poetry-related events or classes. Second, you’ll want to ask for her recommendations on poetry 101 or primer poetry books. Trust us… librarians know everything. They’re the perfect place to start.

This is a good way to find book-length materials, rather than spending time and energy sifting through the Internet (which is incredibly hit-or-miss). You’ll want books that anthologize canonical (well-known) poets, anthologies that feature poets from different continents (as, unfortunately, many anthologies aren’t very diverse), and specific books of poetry that focus on kinds of poets, like The Beat Poets or French Surrealists.

The best thing about the library is that you can browse the poetry section — rather than having to know what to search for online. Thumbing through the pages, without distraction, can be illuminating in a way that the Internet isn’t always conducive toward. Bring a cup of coffee and read the day away.

Literary Readings Online & In Person Are Helpful

Another great way to study poetry is to listen to it aloud, to discover its variety, to connect with local writers, is to see poetry in the flesh. Find a local venue where poetry is being performed (a bar, a bookstore, a cafe, a gallery) and attend it. These are mostly free, too!

Local colleges often have poetry readings that are free to attend and open to the public. You can view them online, as well — there are a variety of poetry readings on YouTube. This is a great playlist of videos from the 80s through today.

Online University Courses Are Available To You

Because education should be accessible to all — and some wonderful people realize this — there are a number of sites dedicated to providing free access to university courses. Do a simple search for “writing” or “poetry” to find courses at Edx (which is free, although there are paid certificate-earning options as well) or Coursera (which also offers a wide range of courses from universities, free or paid).

Poetry Organizations Share The Poetry Love

Organizations like the Academy of American Poets, Poets & Writers, and Poetry Foundation offer thousands of free poems, history on poets, resources, and blogs about contemporary poetry. It’s worth browsing these sites regularly, as not only do they share contemporary poetry and news, their poetry archives are worth browsing.

Remember, in your self-paced learning, to embrace diversity and seek voices from all over the globe. Read poetry not only on Instagram but in books. Open a book you’ve never heard of and read a page. Keep a poetry journal and have fun with it.

Feature photo by Erick Zajac on Unsplash