Read the poem as something it isn’t. Read it as a constitution, love letter, or recipe. What happens if we remove from the poem our expectations of what a poem might be? Can you put together an IKEA bookshelf with it?

Read the poem selectively. What happens if you read the poem only for sound, or for the appearance of certain words or devices, or only for biographical information? What happens if you only look for the letter “K”? Try visually reducing/altering a copy of the poem to only that aspect of it with which you would like to work. Use a sharpie to eliminate every word but those about body parts or birds. Use whiteout to remove everything but punctuation.

Read the poem in company. Read the poem through the conceptual lens of a painting, a photograph, a piece of music, an historical event, a person, or another work of literature. You might pick a related work, or one through which you will have to strain to see.

Read the poem by comparison. If this poem were architecture, what building would it be? In what style? How many rooms? Or otherwise, what kind of animal or liquid or what kind of disease? What kind of furniture? (For example, often a sonnet is a dresser with three equal sized drawers and one smaller one, but the third of three drawers, rather than containing clothes, contains a complete set of dinner plates.)

Read the poem wrong. Read it backwards, read it with the lines mixed up, or read it with no line breaks if there are some, or with line break if there aren’t. Read it in another language.

Read the poem in the negative. What isn’t there? Why not? What can you surmise from the absence? Can you read the poem only be reading its negative space?

Read the poem variously. Read it in different locations, at different times, under different metabolic influences (sugar or celery or wine), also, under different environmental conditions (soaked wet, in the gym, listening to Taylor Swift).

Read the poem disobediently. Often poems seem to suggest how they should be read. Sometimes poets even provide explicit instructions. If poets don’t give these, English instructors often do. What happens if you do the opposite of these instructions, reading the poem in a way that you believe to be a rebellion against the poem itself or at least against every acceptable manner of reading you have previously encountered? Is a rebellion against a poem even possible?

Read the poem physically. How does it make you feel? (Literally, how does it make you feel — sweaty? sleepy? excited?) You might also want to think about how it makes you feel, as in what it does to your feels. Also, how does it make you feel when you — for example — touch it? lift it? taste it?

Read the poem generatively. What can reading a poem make? Read by reproducing the poem, or altering it, or using it as an anchor for another work or act.

Read the poem adaptively. Can you invent a method of reading the poem unique to the poem you are reading? What form or forms of reading fit the form of the poem?

Suggestions for Roundabout Reading
Guy Mackinnon-Little
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