I’ve been carrying around this idea for a long time–maybe you have, too–that there is a right way to read poetry. The right way to read poetry is very serious and very slow. You are supposed to read each word one at a time and each line two or three times, and then you are supposed to ponder the meaning of each word and the rhythm of every line, and if you are very good you will write little dashes and lines to mark the tempo and look for patterns, or maybe you’re into imagery and circle all of the similes and metaphors.

When I was in school, I read poetry like this. The other day I stumbled on my marked-up copy of Mark Doty’s Atlantis, a book that was assigned during my first semester of grad school. Reading the marginalia just before I erased it–Thank God, I wrote in pencil–was like reading one of those classics books that they give children that have footnotes defining all of the hard words. It was useful, probably, when I was writing that paper on allusions, but I don’t read poetry like that anymore.

Lately, for me, reading poetry is like striking a tuning fork. I feel something, something I can’t articulate or name, and I pick up a book that feels like it might be vaguely in the right key. If I’m feeling a little bit moody, geeky, and very sentimental, I’ll pick up Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder, and I’ll skim the pages very fast until something resonates. ZING! I’ve found the note: “which is why I am standing / here exactly, covered in shame and lightning” (Schwinn). Then I’ll read the words or line or (rarely) whole poem over and over again, tuning my heart to that one clear note, feeling that feeling through the words as loud as I can until the feeling is satisfied that it’s been heard.

The problem with this method is that it assumes not only the knowledge that something like this is possible but also access to a large and diverse poetry library and enough knowledge of poetry to navigate it. If I’m feeling the anger of injustice, I might need Adrienne Rich or Muriel Rukeyser. A poem about the Hadron Collider (“Screaming Skull,” Zapruder) isn’t going to help me, and if I’m not familiar with Zapruder’s work, I won’t know that until I’ve read the poem. On the other hand, if I know enough about poetry to reach for Pablo Naruda when I’m in love, ending up with a collection of his political work because that’s all they stock at the library isn’t going to help me, either.

Of course, many people process their emotions with music or visual art or yoga, and it’s relatively easy to stumble onto these things–even if it’s just through musak, paintings at the doctor’s office, or the odd yoga reference on TV. And this raises the question, of course, of how necessary developing this kind of knowledge of poetry is for most people. I process my emotions best with words taken in through my eyes, but it’s possible that I’m just odd. (Okay, maybe a little more than possible.) Still, short of taking classes and picking the brains of booksellers (who may or may not know enough to help), poetry that resonates is hard to find by accident.

This fact has been making me wish for something like a wine guide to poetry, a resource that would make it possible for a reader to say, “I need a gay romance with volcanoes, photography, and an essay on the history of adjectives in poetry,” and end up with a recommendation for The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson.

It would, of course, be a massive undertaking and not one I’m willing to spearhead. (Though, I would be willing to help, if someone took the idea and ran with it.) But I wonder if there’s something that people who do have some knowledge of poetry can do so that people who would benefit from the tuning fork method of reading poetry have a chance of finding what they need–short of tweeting links to Byron during National Poetry Month because clearly that hasn’t been working.