Yes, I believe that you must read if you are to write. You might ask why. If you did, then my short answer is that there is much to be learned about an art by experiencing how others have produced their version of that art. If you did not ask, then the previous sentence is of no importance to you.
Moving on, here are a couple things I’ve gleaned about writing by reading.
Style or Voice:
After reading some of my favorite poets, Frost, Whitman, St. Vincent Milay, Sandburg and Dickinson (to name just a few) I discovered that each has a different style, despite writing in the same poetic form. For instance, if you read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and then a sonnet by Sir Thomas Marlowe or Ben Jonson, the feel will be different. They’re different people using the same poetic form. However, they each write with their own style.
This realization made me want to find out if I have a poetic style and what that is. My style is my own and I don’t know how to describe it to you. If you’ve read my blog and the poems interspersed herein, you should be able to discern it.
Phrasing and Rhythm:
There is a rhythm to the way people write. I see this plainly in Shakespeare's plays. I can feel the movement and the scene unfolding by listening with my inner senses to the rhythm of the words. The way the words are linked together in phrasing has a certain feel that differs from his contemporaries.
Read with Diversity:
So, reading anything can give you information, inspiration, intoxication and increase your imagination. Don’t become fixated on reading poems to try to improve your poetry. Read anything that interests you. Perhaps you like mysteries or Stephen King novels, but write very lyric poems. Without judgment, go with the rhythm of the words fluttering around in your brain, heart and soul. They will come forth in your own special style.
Write with Diversity:
We are wordsmiths, are we not? Just as a blacksmith must know how to make various tools and objects, so must a writer. I dabble in several different forms of writing and differing genres. Writing poems strengthens my writing skills for other forms and vice versa.
Stretch your wings and see where reading can take you.