These poems are important historical writings, but they serve a contemporary purpose too, as they have been used to determine the meaning of each Rune for the purposes of "reading" them. With that, it's important to realize two things.
First, there are three "versions" of the Rune Poems, in Old English (OE), Old Icelandic (OI), and Old Norwegian (ON). What's truly fascinating about these poems is their general agreement around the meaning of the Rune, with minor exceptions. Let's use my favorite Rune, Jera, as an example. The following is quoted from Sweyn Plowright's book, "The Rune Primer". The Old English version is also available in Stephen Pollington's, "Rudiments of Runelore".
OE – Year/harvest is men's hope, when god, holy heaven's king, let's the earth give shining fruit to the warriors and the poor.
OI – Harvest is men’s bounty and a good summer and a full grown field.
ON – Harvest is men’s bounty. I guess that generous was Fródhi.
One quick note, in the Old Norwegian version, it is believed that the second lines are largely irrelevant to the Rune's meaning and are there for rhyming purposes.
Second, some books of Rune interpretations and Rune readers do not use these poems for their basis, while others begin with them and build or add additional information around the main idea of the poem's meaning.
When I began doing Rune readings for friends and family, I relied on Ralph Blum's interpretation of them. While he has ignored some key aspects of the historical information around Runes, such as their order, most of his explanations are fairly accurate. Here is what he has to say about Jera.
It is the Rune of the Harvest, Fertile Season, One Year.
Following the idea of the process of the harvest, Blum expands on this Rune's interpretation. He warns that no immediate results can be expected when this Rune is drawn, that the issue has a process through which it must go and you cannot make it move any faster than is required for it to be completed properly, in its own time. In support of this, he tells the story of the farmer who tried to pull up the shoots of his plants to make them grow faster and reminds us that no one can push a river. He stresses patience if you draw this Rune. Although Blum's interpretation drifts away from the specific goal of harvest and bounty, it remains true to the process involved in achieving a good harvest and bounty.
In contrast, the Rune Kano or Kenaz holds a greater mystery. This is one instance where the poems do not agree. The OE version calls it a light or lamp, while the OI and ON refer to it as a children's sore. Blum calls Kano the Rune of openings, but also uses fire and torch to describe it. Again he diverges, but approaches it from the perspective of renewed clarity and dispelling of darkness, which light does; it allows us to see things we couldn't see before.
I will probably do more on Rune Poems in the not too distant future, but for now, if any of you have an example of an interpretation that is not drawn from the Rune Poems, please let me know.