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How to read poetry like a professor

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Thomas Foster, an ex-literature professor and author, explains how to get the most out of poems while avoiding intimidation

Since retiring from his professorship at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he taught literature and writing for nearly 30 years, Thomas Foster has made a fruitful career writing instructive books about how we ought to read. With How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which he revised in 2014, Foster scored his first New York Times bestseller. It was followed by How to Read Novels Like a Professor, Twenty-five Books that Shaped America, and Reading the Silver Screen.

Now Foster, who studied English at Dartmouth College, turns his eye toward poetry, a form he says he “didn’t know how to handle” in grade school. His new book, How to Read Poetry Like a Professor, provides something of a blueprint for tackling verse while also disproving the notion that poetry is intimidating, esoteric, or, as Foster told the Guardian, “obscure on purpose”. In an interview with the professor, whose early teenage encounter with the works of Lawrence Ferlinghetti left a lasting impression, he shares his tips for understanding and enjoying poetry:

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