Why You Should Read “52 Ways of Looking at a Poem” by Ruth Padel

Over the summer break I have been working my way through the reading list for my MA. Whilst there were lots of great fiction, it was Ruth Padel’s guide to reading poetry that I would really recommend to anyone.

Now, I know for some people when they hear the word poetry they recoil into their literary comfort zone, and I for one totally understand this. When I first started my degree the Intro to Poetry module was definitely the one I was most nervous about. I felt poetry was somehow too complex or inaccessible for me and that I would never ‘get’ what the author was trying to communicate.ruth-padel

However, this is exactly what Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem addresses. The origins of the book can be found in the Independent on Sunday, when each week Padel would contribute her own reading of a modern poem, and explain how she came to her conclusions. Padel attributes the success of these original articles to poetry’s reputation  in contemporary society as  being something that is difficult, but then goes on to highlight that it is this difficulty, this working out, which is exactly what makes the poetic form pleasurable.

Alongside essays that offer an explanation of poetic terms and devices such as rhyme, metre and stanzas, Padel also discusses how poetry has developed and relates to current society. This is particularly useful for me as I’m studying a 21st Century Lit MA. I would argue though that this is beneficial for anyone, as it offers a context of the featured modern poems and allows the reader to place them within contemporary societal developments. Personally, I found Padel’s discussion of women writers particularly engaging.

Following the aforementioned essays, Padel then treats us to her analysis of 52 modern poems. She has also included a glossary at the back of the book, so people who are completely new to poetry can understand any terms she may use in her explanation. Having someone break down and explain how they have concluded what the poem could be communicating, and evidence how they have drawn this from the poetic devices used, has really helped grow my confidence in my own personal readings.

Padel’s work has made me realise that, like most literature, there is not a singular idea that you are supposed to be trying to draw out from the work. It’s about understanding how the poem works, and unpicking the technical devices and language in order to come to an informed analysis of the work. As I said at the beginning of this post, Padel shows us that it is this initial difficulty that makes poetry pleasurable to read. Love poetry or hate it, I urge anyone to give this book a go! I am pretty confident everyone will draw something beneficial from it.

Thank you so much for reading! I would really love to hear what you think so please like or comment below. What is your experience with poetry (good or bad)? Do you think Padel’s work would be something useful for you? Or do you love poetry- if so what is it for you that makes it so enjoyable? Let me know!




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