New to Poetry?

Books for those new to poetry

Some helpful ways to get started

Whether you want to explore poetry from scratch, or rediscover it (even reclaim it) for yourself, the SPL is here to help.

We believe that reading is just as creative and satisfying as writing. Whether you would like a clear and friendly introduction to reading poetry, or just want to discuss poems in a relaxed session, consider our Reading groups; and whether you want to browse some new poems in our poem stacks, or find an inspiring guide to reading poetry, we suggest you start here.

We believe that reading poetry is crucial if you want to develop your own writing. So if you are writing poetry, take a look at our For poets section, but use your writer’s senses to explore some of the resources for readers too.

Try some of these ideas to get poetry into your day to day routine…

Reading guides

Do you have a poem or poetry book in front of you? Try one of our How to read… guides to help you find a way in.

Poetry off the page: recordings, podcasts & online audio

Listening is often easier to fit into your day than reading, and it can give you ideas for what to read next. You can borrow CDs and other recordings from us.  And you can also browse these online sources:  

Scottish Poetry Library
Start with the Scottish Poetry Library's own podcasts – a lively magazine format show with interviews, readings and poetry chat.

Poetry Archive
A huge, lovely UK site of English-language poetry with recordings of an excellent range of poets reading their own work – this is the business.

The Writer’s Almanac
Five minutes with a poem, some book-related snippets and the soothing voice of Garrison Keillor; perfect for bedtime or the journey home from work.  Fans report that it is addictive.

Ubu Web 
A vast, fascinating online archive of avant-garde poetry recordings and more. Not just for impressing your coolest friends, though it will; taste and explore...
Check websites of book and poetry festivals like Edinburgh International Book Festival, StAnza Poetry Festival, or centres like the Wordsworth Trust – more and more are putting up recordings of events for you to listen to, or download for later.

And don't forget BBC Radio and BBC iPlayer for programmes like Poetry Please (Radio 4), The Verb (Radio 3), Book Cafe (BBC Radio Scotland).

Read some poems on your pc or phone

Make one of these sites your homepage: Our home page features a new poem every week, and our online poem stacks are ideal for browsing – just start browsing using our tags.

Poetry Foundation Excellent US website for poetry readers, full texts of poems online and searchable by theme, podcasts of new and archive recordings, Poetry magazine, and an Iphone poetry app.

Poetry Daily A US website with, yes, a poem a day.

Poetry magazines online Try this excellent poetry magazines site, where you can read poems in an archive of poetry magazines for free.

Poetry International Poetry from different countries with English translations – some excellent selections and constantly updated with some really perceptive choices. 

Poetry Translation Centre for original translation of poetry beyond Europe; for North America, the Academy of American Poets

Take a Novel Approach

Perhaps you are in a book group, and you'd like to try poetry alongside the novels. Or you are an avid reader who hasn't tried any poetry for ages. Where to start? Well, you might want a few recommendations to get you going. And what about the kinds of books you enjoy already?

Novel Approach lists popular novels and suggests a contemporary poetry collection that gets to the heart of each one. We've picked collections in print wherever possible, by living poets from the UK or Scotland. We've also added some further ideas for poets you could try. Altogether, there are some far-fetched connections that still work – and there are bound to be some great pairings we haven't thought of. Try a few of the combinations and let us know what you think.

Books to dip into

Poem for the Day: One, ed Albery & Ratcliffe (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), and Poem for the Day: Two ed Albery & Wienrich (Chatto & Windus, 2005). Exactly what it says on the tin – lovely range, prompts you to read something every day.

100 Favourite Scottish Poems, ed Stewart Conn (Luath, 2006; £7.99) Includes 20 poems voted as Scottish favourites via Radio Scotland, and, as the editor puts it, some more poems, old and new, just waiting to become favourites. There’s a large print edition available too.

Staying Alive: real poems for unreal timesBeing Alive, and Being Human ed Neil Astley (Bloodaxe, £10.95 each) Great range of readable poetry with emphasis on contemporary. Open these books anywhere and you’ll find some words worth reading.

101 Sonnets: from Shakespeare to Heaney, ed Paterson (Faber, 2002; £6.99) Pocket-sized, a wide and inspiring selection, and a good introduction on what a sonnet is.

The Forward Book of Poetry (Faber; £8.99) Annual anthology with an excellent taster of poetry collections and single poems in the running for the categories in the Forward Prize. Shortlist usually announced in July, winner in October.

Dream State, ed Donny O’Rourke (Polygon, 2002; £18) First came out in 1994, an updated edition in 2002; a cross-section of a really strong generation of younger Scottish poets. A really good introduction to help you explore further.

Ten Poems to Change Your Life Roger Housden (Mobius, 2003) From a lovely series of books exploring just ten poems.

52 Ways of Looking At a Poem: Or how modern poetry can change your life, Ruth Padel (Vintage, 2004) Padel looks at 52 different poems and shares what she sees, teaching you how to read a poem.

Beautiful and Pointless: A guide to modern poetry, David Orr (Harper, 2011) A current favourite among staff at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Get poetry through the post

Scottish Poetry Library

Become a Friend of the Scottish Poetry Library for £35/£25: one of the particularly useful Friends' benefits is the free postal borrowing. You spot the book on the online catalogue, and ask us to send it to you. It arrives with a Freepost return label, and when you're done you pop the book back in the jiffybag, stick the return label on the front and put it in the post to us.

Explore the magazines and journals available in the SPL, and consider subscribing to one – for example, Poetry Review, the magazine of the Poetry Society in London, The Reader and PN Review are all geared to reading, just as much as to publishing poets.

Poetry Book Society

Membership of the Poetry Book Society £45 a year gets you a book each quarter, plus the excellent quarterly PBS Bulletin with the selectors’ and poets’ comments; £14 gets you the Bulletin only.