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Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

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"David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orr’s a critic, and a good one. . . . Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar." —Tom Perrotta Award-winning New York Times B "David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orr’s a critic, and a good one. . . . Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar." —Tom Perrotta Award-winning New York Times Book Review poetry columnist David Orr delivers an engaging, amusing, and stimulating tour through the world of poetry. With echoes of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, Orr’s Beautiful & Pointless offers a smart and funny approach to appreciating an art form that many find difficult to embrace.


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"David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orr’s a critic, and a good one. . . . Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar." —Tom Perrotta Award-winning New York Times B "David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orr’s a critic, and a good one. . . . Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar." —Tom Perrotta Award-winning New York Times Book Review poetry columnist David Orr delivers an engaging, amusing, and stimulating tour through the world of poetry. With echoes of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, Orr’s Beautiful & Pointless offers a smart and funny approach to appreciating an art form that many find difficult to embrace.

30 review for Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Great title. (Check out the parenthesis with "A Guide to Modern Poetry" inside of it.) Dangerous title. (Check out the risk that it, too, may be as pointless as its subject matter.) Anyway, you could call it a strength or a weakness that this book about poetry is not by a poet but by a poetry critic (they have such things, but I wouldn't advise wanting to be one when you grow up). David Orr carries such a title for the New York Times Book Review, no small change for a kid from South Carolina who Great title. (Check out the parenthesis with "A Guide to Modern Poetry" inside of it.) Dangerous title. (Check out the risk that it, too, may be as pointless as its subject matter.) Anyway, you could call it a strength or a weakness that this book about poetry is not by a poet but by a poetry critic (they have such things, but I wouldn't advise wanting to be one when you grow up). David Orr carries such a title for the New York Times Book Review, no small change for a kid from South Carolina who cut his teeth on Philip Larkin's poetry (Phil was David's inspiration to become a lifelong poetry reader, an irony only Philip could appreciate more than David). Intriguing to me was the claim that this was a book for Everyman as opposed to poetry readers (1% of the population) and poets (.12839% of the population). Being a teacher, I can only partially claim the "poetry reader" designation, and having written a couple dozen poems, only four published, I can only partially claim the "poet" designation, too. My best fit? Everyman behaving a little strangely, maybe.* But nothing in here especially appealed to the populist in me. To start, Orr dissects what it means to be a poet, and what poetry is, and, scalpel, please, I'm not sure Everyman wants to don the surgeon's mask to witness this, really. Then Orr discusses greatness under the cloak of "ambition" -- what makes poetry great, and what poets ARE great. But wait -- if you're Everyman considering poetry for the first time, what's this to you? Isn't it like insider's jargon with insider's names? Then we get the "Form" chapter which (gasp) gets into the architecture of poetry. Hoo boy. Most people don't care how a car works or what's under the hood, they just want it to start when they turn the ignition key and get them safely from A to B when they press the gas pedal. Similarly, most non-poets and non-poetry readers do not want to get into the guts of, say, sonnets, they just want to read it and sigh if it hits them in the sweet spot. Finally, the most niche-driven chapter of all, "Fishbowl." Here Orr got into the debate of poetry belonging to the outsider/Lone Wolf as opposed to belonging to that new poetic beast, the product of academia endorsed and perpetuated by OTHER products of academia. Poetry workshops. Blurbs. You love my chapbook and I'll love yours. Et cetera with enjambment. I loved the closing of the book, however. In it, Orr recounts his younger days, how he met poetry (it wasn't on-line!), and how he and his dying father shared poetry even though his dad, like most of our dads, wouldn't know poetry if he tripped over it. Great stuff, and a great closing line. Which is odd, really, because I read so many good books that don't know how to end, yet here I read a so-so book of criticism that not only knows it but nails it. So let that be your incentive (or not). If you love poetry, you MAY love this book. Or not. Damned if I know. You're on your own, kind of like white chickens in the rain when they strut by red wheelbarrows.... * Since writing this, I have actually published a debut collection of 80 (count 'em) poems in a book called The Indifferent World. Life plays strange tricks, no?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Wells

    I just finished Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr, and now I am sad. It isn't often that I come across a person who cares so much about poetry but is equally as honest about the state of contemporary poetry, and that willingness to illuminate the reality of modern poetry and call it like it is was refreshing, humbling, and entertaining. I'm not sad because of his honesty or the bleak portrait of modern poetry. I'm sad because he was light, funny, and accessible, an I just finished Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr, and now I am sad. It isn't often that I come across a person who cares so much about poetry but is equally as honest about the state of contemporary poetry, and that willingness to illuminate the reality of modern poetry and call it like it is was refreshing, humbling, and entertaining. I'm not sad because of his honesty or the bleak portrait of modern poetry. I'm sad because he was light, funny, and accessible, and now it is over, and now I must go back to actually reading contemporary poetry (ha ha ha). Y'all know that I love poetry (really, I love poetry, not just like). I come to poetry mostly from Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and the simple pleasure of the way words felt in my mouth as I learned to read. The music of poetry and the written word is unlike lyrics in that the rhythm resides solely in the words-- it cannot be buttressed by notes and chords, by percussion or strings. That's where my love of poetry starts-- in play and in joy. Plus, I am tone deaf, and while I will sing (badly), singing is a distinctly different kind of pleasure that involves high notes, low notes and all that fall between, while one focus of poetry is on the way the words rub up against each other, in stresses and unstressed syllables, in alliterations and rhyme. It sings without vocal range (thank God for that). Next I find the poems I like most offer a magnified glimpse. At something. Anything, really. Like a photographer, the poet zooms in and says, look what I found. Or, listen to this experience I had once. Or, doesn't this remind you of this other thing? I love the metaphor. I love the hidden truth revealed. I love the "ah ha!" moment when I discover what the writer discovered, and I love to be on the writing end of that "ah ha!" moment, experiencing the surprise, too. I like poems that invite me over for a cup of tea. But I also like poems with depth and feeling, poems that struggle with questions-- big and little ones--poems that make demands, poems that are so personal they fold in on themselves and become universal. I love poems rich in detail and rooted in scene. I love storytelling and narrative, form and freeverse. I even love the poems that require several run-throughs before the meaning reveals itself, if at all, poems with complex syntax that I have to cut into small pieces and digest slowly before I have any idea what's really going on besides initial awe. So these are some of the reasons why I love poetry. What is brilliant about Beautiful & Pointless is that Orr does not set out to defend poetry as the Art of Arts. He shares with the reader a panoramic shot of the world of modern poetry, and he nails it, all of it-- the ego, the rubbing of elbows, the academic world, the private world, the public poet, the business of endorsements, the poem about the poem, and, most importantly, the reality that is so often forgotten in poetic circles, the fact that all of the people who actually read and value poetry could comfortably fit into one large athletic complex. This reality, for me, isn't discouraging. There are plenty of niche groups in the world who are passionate about interests I have no desire to pursue (i.e., Star Trek. Basket Weaving. Hot Air Ballooning. Rowing. Etc.), and none of them are bemoaning the state of the world, the general neglect of their Art, or why collecting stamps hasn't entered the realm of popular culture. At the end of the century, maybe a dozen dead poets will find their work in the Norton Anthology tortured college freshman will read and be confused by. The likelihood that I am one of those dead poets by 2100 is pretty, pretty slim (the likelihood that I AM a dead poet by 2100 is almost guaranteed, unless I live to be 118), SO, I think I will write whatever the heck I want to write, however the heck I want to write it, and I better darn well have a good time doing it, because chances are me and a handful of my closest friends and family will read the things, and then just two or three will actually care, so if I'm not having fun along the way, then why, why keep it up? I love poetry. Read Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr. You might not walk away wanting to jump into the latest issue of Poetry Magazine or jump online to order a subscription for Rattle, but you will have a fresh perspective on the wild and crazy world of the contemporary poet, you will laugh a little-- mostly at yourself, if you are a poet.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr is not just another book about poetry. I have read many books about poetry. About how to read it, about what it is, about different forms and styles, and about how to write it. Many of these books were excellent, some were exhilarating. But they all left me overwhelmed and as unable to talk about poetry as before (or close to). Orr talks about these books up front and offers a different perspective: a chance to listen to a poet and Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr is not just another book about poetry. I have read many books about poetry. About how to read it, about what it is, about different forms and styles, and about how to write it. Many of these books were excellent, some were exhilarating. But they all left me overwhelmed and as unable to talk about poetry as before (or close to). Orr talks about these books up front and offers a different perspective: a chance to listen to a poet and poetry critic share his personal experience as a reader of poetry, a way to begin to develop a language in which to have conversations about poetry. And so begin this unpretentious, highly accessible book. Orr compares the beginning of a relationship with poetry (which he describes as the one activity people have a relationship with that goes beyond the "doing") as visiting a foreign country. He says all that is needed is "patience and the willingness" to book a ticket. And, he adds a little later, the willingness to tolerate being confused and "not knowing," in the way we probably would if we knew ourselves surrounded by an unfamiliar language and culture. The book is funny, provocative, friendly, and always interesting. In relatively few pages, Orr gives a brief summary of poetry's relationship with itself, its practitioners and society. He shares some very funny (and human) stories of poets' maliciousness/envy/fear and movingly conveys (as he sees it) their often lonely, self-doubting lives. And as promised, he shares his experience both personal and professional with his relationship with poetry. Orr describes poetry as a "small, vulnerable activity," but also points out that human life consists of many "small, unnecessary acts of devotions." I found myself taking many notes, partly for the pleasure of repeating his succinct, lovely phrases and partly to argue with him. Because at the risk of repeating the hyperbole he accuses lovers of poetry of indulging in, I would say that poetry fills a particular need, opens up worlds inside us and in our relationship with the world around us in a way unique to it. And I would say music, painting, theater, sculpture, all do the same, each in their own way. And a world deprived of these special relationships is a world that is flatter. And each art may not speak to each person in equally powerful ways but I would argue that developing an understanding of any (and all) of the arts increases our humanity and benefits us and the world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    The Sunday Book Review

    You want to see modern day poets called out for their bad poetry? Pick up this book. The first one to get a lashing in Jewel. David Orr complains that while the book did very well in sales, the poetry is such drivel that it's embarrassing. And it just gets worse from there. I like poetry. Granted I am picky in what I like, but I don't think I would go as far as saying what I don't like is worthless. In this book we are given a short study on how to distinguish good poetry from bad poetry. How to You want to see modern day poets called out for their bad poetry? Pick up this book. The first one to get a lashing in Jewel. David Orr complains that while the book did very well in sales, the poetry is such drivel that it's embarrassing. And it just gets worse from there. I like poetry. Granted I am picky in what I like, but I don't think I would go as far as saying what I don't like is worthless. In this book we are given a short study on how to distinguish good poetry from bad poetry. How to distinguish poetry with feeling versus poetry for the sake of writing words down. The book was fun to read, partly because it just ripped some modern day poets to shreds but also because I liked his "explanations" of it. The reason I put that in quotes is because at times he just quickly says it's garbage and moves on. I think the book would have been more effective in telling it from his perspective and telling us the why. He is a knowledgable man in poetry and sometimes the book read a bit elitist. "Don't you know why this is crap? Why should I even bother explaining it to you?" Even through some on of his descriptions you can start understanding more about what modern day poets try to accomplish. If you are a poet or heavily read poetry, this is an interesting book to pick up. You may not agree with most of what he says, but it will give you an inside view as to what critics look for in poetry nowadays and how to avoid the pitfalls they all dread. I must say the younger version of me was a bit let down. Poetry shouldn't be so difficult. It should be what calls out to YOU, not a critic. Something that is personal to you, may not be to someone else, and to have that person tell you your poetry is bad, kind of hurts. To his credit, Orr covers this in his book. He writes about how shocked people are when they hear that he rips apart people's written emotions. But like he says, we review all other types of written words, why not poetry? The book was a quick, funny illuminating read. Would I take everything he said to heart. No. But I'll be sure to write about it in my next poem.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    David Orr, the poetry critic for the NY Times, tells of meeting a woman at a party and when she asked the question we all ask of new people these days, "What do you do?" he said, "I'm a poetry critic." "Oh! How can you do that? Poetry is so . . . so PERSONAL." And so Orr begins his slim book by addressing the question of just how personal modern confessional poetry really is. Writing about one's misery and disappointment and personal failings can start to sound the same when everyone is doing it, David Orr, the poetry critic for the NY Times, tells of meeting a woman at a party and when she asked the question we all ask of new people these days, "What do you do?" he said, "I'm a poetry critic." "Oh! How can you do that? Poetry is so . . . so PERSONAL." And so Orr begins his slim book by addressing the question of just how personal modern confessional poetry really is. Writing about one's misery and disappointment and personal failings can start to sound the same when everyone is doing it, and not very cleverly at that. But one of the most personal poems he knows, says Orr, is John O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died," and especially the last few lines: "... I just stroll into the PARK LANE Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it "and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT while she whispered a song along the keyboard to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing" It made me stop breathing for a moment. Orr quotes from dozens of modern poets and has an entertaining chapter about the formalists, one of whom includes in his book of sonnets a 14-line poem with one word per line. Is it a sonnet? I think it is and I loved it as I did all of these essays.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    A fun, informative book delivered what it promis'd to help a person such as me, read a modern poem and glean a degree of meaning. This is no heavy tome, it won't bore to tears, put to sleep, or overly tax the brain. No subtle coercion is exacted. Think what you please. If you're wondering why I'm writing this way. Check out the chapter on form, number three, could it be mechanical, resemblance or metrical? (Ah, you'll have to read the book and see!)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    Beautiful & Pointless opens with the amusing (if not especially interesting) observation that "For decades now, one of the poetry world's favorite activities has been bemoaning its lost audience, then bemoaning the bemoaning, then bemoaning that bemoaning, until finally everyone shrugs and applies for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts." Instead, Orr commits himself to 200 pages of stalwart, determinedly phlegmatic un-moaning, steady-breathing his way to the common sense conclu Beautiful & Pointless opens with the amusing (if not especially interesting) observation that "For decades now, one of the poetry world's favorite activities has been bemoaning its lost audience, then bemoaning the bemoaning, then bemoaning that bemoaning, until finally everyone shrugs and applies for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts." Instead, Orr commits himself to 200 pages of stalwart, determinedly phlegmatic un-moaning, steady-breathing his way to the common sense conclusion that "Poetry is a small, vulnerable human activity no better or more powerful than thousands of other small, vulnerable human activities." Well, sure, I suppose so. His last chapter is titled why bother? and indeed I wondered why he did. Orr's book isn't by any stretch "a guide to poetry." I have a small shelf of these, ranging from intelligent, friendly introductions by Alfred Corn, Mary Oliver, Mark Strand, to more serious tomes by James Fenton, and the Guide of all Guides by Mary Kinzie. Orr more or less ignores all learning, preferring to chat instead about the sociopolitical foibles of poets trying to impress the 10 other poets who might have heard of them. Late in the book he refers to "the purplish language" of Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry with a light touch of mockery – which made me shrug in turn; I remember reading Hirsch's book when it appeared a dozen years back and thoroughly enjoying his passion for poets and poems, some of whom were new to me and have stayed with me since. He did not mention Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn – I'm surprised, it seems tailor-made for his alleged iconoclastic wit – but (again) I found much to celebrate in Paglia's book too, an eclectic assortment of poems passionately championed for whatever radioactive half-life of an idea she had at the time. Orr misses the point that people love poems, not Poetry.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James

    After I made it through the first two chapters, which seem strangely condescending, puzzling through basic philosophical questions about the value of poetry for non-poets without adding much new insight beyond the author's educated frame of references, the book gets better. For instance, I like David Orr's brief, tongue-in-cheek, yet accurate summary of recent poetics: "Still, though, we weren't quite tired of fighting about traditional forms. So a group of writers calling themselves 'New Formali After I made it through the first two chapters, which seem strangely condescending, puzzling through basic philosophical questions about the value of poetry for non-poets without adding much new insight beyond the author's educated frame of references, the book gets better. For instance, I like David Orr's brief, tongue-in-cheek, yet accurate summary of recent poetics: "Still, though, we weren't quite tired of fighting about traditional forms. So a group of writers calling themselves 'New Formalists' began insisting that poets should really start writing sonnets again, neatly stepping around the fact that many poets had, in fact, been writing sonnets for decades. At more or less the same time, a bunch of writers called the Language Poet were insisting that sonnets were passe, neatly stepping around the fact that many poets, had, in fact, been avoiding writing sonnets for decades. Naturally, these two groups were much discussed, even though, as the scholar David Bromwich diplomatically put it with reference to the Language Poets, "they do not, as yet, appear to write good poems." I also love this quote: "Our avant-gardists have yet to topple capitalism by undermining narrative, but they've gotten some coveted jobs and made their way onto syllabi." I think I'm going to like the rest of this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Therese Broderick

    "So please: Disagree with me." If Mr. Orr had not written that plea in his Introduction to this book, I might not have commented here. But before I disagree, I will agree: Mr. Orr, I agree with you that poetry lovers "Probably ... just like the way it sounds" (page 11) and that the affection your father had for the sound and silliness of "The Owl and the Pussycat" is a good thing, both beautiful and far from pointless. I also agree that poetry is a "small, vulnerable human activity" (page 192). "So please: Disagree with me." If Mr. Orr had not written that plea in his Introduction to this book, I might not have commented here. But before I disagree, I will agree: Mr. Orr, I agree with you that poetry lovers "Probably ... just like the way it sounds" (page 11) and that the affection your father had for the sound and silliness of "The Owl and the Pussycat" is a good thing, both beautiful and far from pointless. I also agree that poetry is a "small, vulnerable human activity" (page 192). Years ago, I fell in love with poetry that was small and vulnerable. Now, I will disagree with one approach of your book: its mischaracterization of the average American poet in the year 2011. The source of that mischaracterization is the book's neglect of the vibrant, young, diverse, inventive, exciting, and globalized poetry culture of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Only once in your book's 194 pages of text is email mentioned. Only once is Google, a website (Foetry.com), or a blog (The Dread Schenectady) mentioned. Despite my one major disagreement, I agree with enough of the observations, wisdom, and good-naturedness in this book that I will recommend it to my poetry friends. Most likely, I will recommend it to my online poetry friends via the Internet, Facebook, and email. And Goodreads.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Orr is the poetry critic for the New York Times. This meandering, stream-of-consciousness contemplation can be charming or witty in spots, but I don't think it has facilitated or enhanced my enjoyment of modern poetry much. Who is it aimed at, I wonder?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    The closing sentence of the Introduction says it best: "The point is to allow you to find your own place in the poetry world, where others can come and visit." My relationship with the poetry world has been until now been unexamined and ill-defined: I have read poems required in school and various other poems, I have composed doggerel and haiku for friends, I have friends who love poetry and friends who hate poetry -- but I never fit those pieces together in frameworks that made sense for me. No The closing sentence of the Introduction says it best: "The point is to allow you to find your own place in the poetry world, where others can come and visit." My relationship with the poetry world has been until now been unexamined and ill-defined: I have read poems required in school and various other poems, I have composed doggerel and haiku for friends, I have friends who love poetry and friends who hate poetry -- but I never fit those pieces together in frameworks that made sense for me. Now, thanks to Orr, I feel comfortable with a few frameworks that work for me and trying on other frameworks. A few parts of Orr's book are belabored, a few of his arguments seem wrong in my opinion, and he ignores a few poets I like; but having worked through the discussion with him has been helpful. The journey has also been easy and fun, because he moves easily and productively across a broad range of scholarly analysis and everyday, often funny, examples.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    A book with an apropos title: I'm not sure how much I'd say I learned from these essays (they tend to avoid statements that could be called sweeping), but they are lovely, and I admire their thoughtful nature and candid humor.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane Kistner

    If "Beautiful & Pointless" really was intended to provide "a riveting tour of poetry as it actually exists today" for an audience of non-poetry readers, I would be giving this book one star for further driving away that other "98% of the population" that doesn't read poetry. I'm rating it more highly as a mirror that the SUBSET of poets Orr writes about here--many (but not all) of the academics and their progeny--can hold up to their own faces to help them figure out why almost nobody bother If "Beautiful & Pointless" really was intended to provide "a riveting tour of poetry as it actually exists today" for an audience of non-poetry readers, I would be giving this book one star for further driving away that other "98% of the population" that doesn't read poetry. I'm rating it more highly as a mirror that the SUBSET of poets Orr writes about here--many (but not all) of the academics and their progeny--can hold up to their own faces to help them figure out why almost nobody bothers to read what they write. What Orr tells us is true, but only as far as it goes. A huge amount of poetry is being published now outside of the universities, and I'm not talking about just the newest wave of self-publishing print-on-demand poets. I've been active in the small press movement since the early seventies, and a considerable amount of fresh, vibrant work is being published by independent publishers. Orr gives the impression that academics are the only ones writing poetry today. This is just not the case. Some of the best poetry being written now is by poets who manage to rise above or work outside of academia. As a non-academic, I can see along with the rest of the 98% that it's pretty pointless to read poetry written by poets who have their heads up their own you-know-whats all the time (as a number of poets Orr chooses to highlight clearly do)--because WHO CARES what they see in there? I maintain that even their fellow academicians don't care. The Plato's cave-like glimpses of modern poetry presented in this book left me shaking my head, saying "No wonder nobody buys poetry books anymore." If we are to judge the state of modern poetry strictly by what's being churned out of MFA programs, a considerable amount of engaging work written by quite talented poets will be swept under the rug of history. This is not to say that good work is not being done within the crucible of the university, but too much of it is stilted, tired, self-absorbed--completely out of touch with the rest of the world. Here's my two cents: To be worth reading, a poem must transcend the poet who writes it, must have depth and a life of its own; and it must somehow transmit that life, that connection, to the reader. What the non-poetry reading audience needs to know is not how much poetry today is written out of pettiness, myopia, or solipsism—which renders it not only pointless but deadly boring—but that poetry can shake them and wake them and take them places they've never been before. In this regard, Orr's metaphor early on in the book of traveling to a strange country is a good one. But the strange country he takes us to in the better part of the book is more like Rome with its overabundance of cats digging through dumpsters full of stinking old wine bottles than it is the Belgian countryside. Sure, there are Berninis to be glimpsed around the next corner—watch out for the slop bucket tossed out of that upper-story window!—but Orr does not show the non-poetry reader any Berninis. I took four college-level creative writing classes about forty years ago, learning metrics, sound and sense. I fell in love with poetry (Dickey being the first to blow me away); wrote a few good poems; won a few nice literary prizes; started a small poetry press or two; and fell in love with and married a poet whose poetry blew me away. The poems I love are well-crafted, yes, but they are not Empsonian exercises in multi-dimensional navel-gazing. They have a whiff about them of timelessness and universality that anyone—anyone who reads deeply—can "get." The poetry I want to read snatches me up—on many levels—and refuses to let go. Sometimes a poem is so good that I have to memorize it before I can put the book down and do something else. Of course, ugliness can be beautiful and a poem about pointlessness can make a point, but many of the poems Orr chooses to present to us largely fail on both counts. As is true of any reader, I am biased and prone to my own pettiness that arises from my own experience: After all these years, DH and I still run a small literary press and have published some exceptional poets and volumes of poetry. Only a few of these forty years have been spent in academia, and some of the best poets we have published are not academics. But if "Beautiful & Pointless" is to be believed, we and the poets we publish don't even exist. That the only poets getting any attention from reviewers are those doing the academic bump and grind is, sadly, why poetry is not appreciated by a larger audience. David Orr needs to get out more!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ted Burke

    David Orr is a smart writer and poet who has taken on the task to add yet another apology regarding poetry and its under the radar status with most readers, yet another attempt to make the craft less off-putting to a larger audience. It is an enjoyable book , but the joining of poet and readership is not something that can be accomplished by easy suggestions ; as usual, I adhere to the pragmatist dictum that the value of any theory is in how it works, which means, to paraphrase, the allure of an David Orr is a smart writer and poet who has taken on the task to add yet another apology regarding poetry and its under the radar status with most readers, yet another attempt to make the craft less off-putting to a larger audience. It is an enjoyable book , but the joining of poet and readership is not something that can be accomplished by easy suggestions ; as usual, I adhere to the pragmatist dictum that the value of any theory is in how it works, which means, to paraphrase, the allure of any poem, in any style, of any theory, of any agenda composed in English, resides mostly with the talent of the individual poet. We get into matters about how well the poet has absorbed and assimilated their readings, ie, "made them his/her own", how broadly they've outgrown their influences and progressed toward their own version of originality and genius, of course. At the end of the day and long into the night and the following morning, what draws a reader to a poet again after a first reading was the quality of the stanzas, the line breaks, the stylization of the verbs and the spare placement of the adjectives, the use of imagery that seemed both unique and yet plausible, the use of metaphor that is delivered smoothly, invisibly, musically. It is, I think, less a matter on whether a poet opts for simpler diction and terse couplets in regimented rhyme schemes, or a shambling flow that winds through so many associative canyon highways before coming to something resembling a poetic effect; poets are not unlike jazz improvisers of the language, which is to say that how ever they choose to address a problem they've assigned themselves, it comes down to if the writer has developed as style that has an elegance that adheres to and extends the dictates of their chosen form, if the poems in question have their activity placed in the world the poet is nominally apart of, and if this is accomplished with the least amount of pretentious self-awareness. This is to say that what makes a poem an attractive item to return to again and to ruminate about depends on the skill the poet can forget the prevailing nonsense that "poems are always read in the context of other poems" and get on with their task of fathoming more interesting mysteries, oddities, paradoxes and alluvial epiphanies the experience of being alive, breathing and seeing brings us. There is nothing wrong with living in your head, per se, but even poets need to stop watching the dust gather on the furniture and go for a walk, a drive, a movie, a date.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kerfe

    Another book I read about somewhere, seemed interesting, so when I saw it in the library it caught my eye. Plenty of food for thought, though as the title suggests, I'm still not sure that I get the point that Orr is attempting to make. The author talks about how hard it is to define just what a poem is; he gives some general guidelines but leaves things pretty open-ended. He gives examples to prove how slippery poets and poetry are. He describes the arguments and controversies, often obsure and Another book I read about somewhere, seemed interesting, so when I saw it in the library it caught my eye. Plenty of food for thought, though as the title suggests, I'm still not sure that I get the point that Orr is attempting to make. The author talks about how hard it is to define just what a poem is; he gives some general guidelines but leaves things pretty open-ended. He gives examples to prove how slippery poets and poetry are. He describes the arguments and controversies, often obsure and seemingly meaningless, that ebb and flow in the somewhat insular poetic world. Orr wants to know: Why do people read poetry? Why DON'T they? Why should they? A person needs to have a relationsip with an activity or art form for it to be meaningful. And Orr feels that those with relationships to poetry seem particularly intensely involved. How is this relationship made? In the end there seems to be no map or set of rules to follow. Perhaps listening to rap or enjoying the nonsense of Edward Lear is as close as most will get. But maybe given the right chance encounter at the right time a single poem or poet can lead the way to a deeper and wider love. Which is definitely, to my mind, another vote for including poetry and all the arts in the education of every child.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    I defy you to read the first chapter and not want to read the entire book. Orr says we approach poetry the wrong way, like we have to understand it all and wring the meaning from it with grim purpose. Instead, he proposes that we approach poetry as though it were Belgium: don't expect to understand everything, realise they do things differently here, but admire the sights and enjoy the occasional glimpse of insight you do get. The rest of the book is a run through the choices poets make, the squa I defy you to read the first chapter and not want to read the entire book. Orr says we approach poetry the wrong way, like we have to understand it all and wring the meaning from it with grim purpose. Instead, he proposes that we approach poetry as though it were Belgium: don't expect to understand everything, realise they do things differently here, but admire the sights and enjoy the occasional glimpse of insight you do get. The rest of the book is a run through the choices poets make, the squabbles they have amongst themselves, and why they matter (or not) for the reader. Orr is opinionated, he's our tour guide through the Europe of Modern Poetry, and he's happy to hustle us past great sights and suggest we notice various features (tiny willy, detail in the eyes, how heavy it must be to carry that bronze all that way, don't worry nobody else knows what this means either). It's fun but does requires some investment of mental effort. Then again, you've picked up a book subtitled "A Guide to Modern Poetry". Of course you're going to have to think.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    What the personal means in modern poetry: when what seems to be a "private" identity enters the poem, and we must keep the poet-as-author "sustained in harmony" with the new identity - reconciling the friction between two versions of the poet's identity. The political: poetry's totalizing vision to which everything, even the poet himself/herself, becomes subordinate. Form: contemporary poets who write in traditional form (e.g., Marilyn Hacker); poets who don't (C. D. Wright); poets who write in What the personal means in modern poetry: when what seems to be a "private" identity enters the poem, and we must keep the poet-as-author "sustained in harmony" with the new identity - reconciling the friction between two versions of the poet's identity. The political: poetry's totalizing vision to which everything, even the poet himself/herself, becomes subordinate. Form: contemporary poets who write in traditional form (e.g., Marilyn Hacker); poets who don't (C. D. Wright); poets who write in forms that "aren't really traditional but seem like they should be" (Kay Ryan); poets who write in traditional form "in jokey and/or disturbing ways" (Ashbery, Seidel); and poets who write "in traditional form sometimes and in various versions of free verse other times . . . " Ambition: why do critics feel it necessary to apologize for the "smallness" of Kay Ryan's poems while explaining that they are nonetheless worthwhile -- even "big" in non-obvious ways? The fishbowl:the world of contemporary poetry and the academy

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I was hopeful about this book for two reasons: I thought I might recommend it to my brother, who doesn't 'get' poetry, as a beginner's guide; and I thought it would give me a sense of the poetry landscape and where my work might fit. I was mostly disappointed (definitely on the first count--you need some familiarity with the terrain for this book to be meaningful). I did get some sense of the landscape, but not in the way I thought. I found the chapter on the academy not only depressing, but als I was hopeful about this book for two reasons: I thought I might recommend it to my brother, who doesn't 'get' poetry, as a beginner's guide; and I thought it would give me a sense of the poetry landscape and where my work might fit. I was mostly disappointed (definitely on the first count--you need some familiarity with the terrain for this book to be meaningful). I did get some sense of the landscape, but not in the way I thought. I found the chapter on the academy not only depressing, but also somewhat myopic. Poetry is 'happening' outside the academy, by poets not associated with the academy (at least out here in the hinterlands). They'd probably be called 'amateurs' by those in the academy, but to me one of the beauties of poetry is its participatory nature. All that said, i did enjoy the book. Very snappy writing. Though for some reason Orr's use of 'he' for a generic poet really bugged me. Probably just the chip on MY shoulder.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    I love to read, but I don’t know how to read well. I read widely, but I don’t read deeply. So what is a fifty-four-year-old big reader with a busy life to do to correct this? Read something that teaches one how to read deeply, of course. Of course. I nervously checked this book out of the public library. I love poetry more than any other writing, but I know less about poetry than any other type of writing. Would I find anything of value in this book? Yes, happily, I found that David Orr was the per I love to read, but I don’t know how to read well. I read widely, but I don’t read deeply. So what is a fifty-four-year-old big reader with a busy life to do to correct this? Read something that teaches one how to read deeply, of course. Of course. I nervously checked this book out of the public library. I love poetry more than any other writing, but I know less about poetry than any other type of writing. Would I find anything of value in this book? Yes, happily, I found that David Orr was the perfect person to turn to in order to write a useful and clever book about poetry. Beautiful and Pointless is a wonderful book for anyone who loves poetry. The text of this book is poetry, with lots of apt metaphors and similes. It’s humorous, too, which I found a great relief. Read this book. Read this book if you like poetry. Read this book if you don’t. It’s that good.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sigrun Hodne

    I love Orr's opening chapter, listen to this introduction; ... it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about poetry as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone. Rather, it would be useful to talk about poetry as if it were, for example, Belgium. (…) The important thing is that you’d know you were going to be confused, or at least occasionally at loss, and you’d accept that confusion as part of the experience. … (To “get” Belgium, you need not know the Brussels ph I love Orr's opening chapter, listen to this introduction; ... it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about poetry as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone. Rather, it would be useful to talk about poetry as if it were, for example, Belgium. (…) The important thing is that you’d know you were going to be confused, or at least occasionally at loss, and you’d accept that confusion as part of the experience. … (To “get” Belgium, you need not know the Brussels phone book). … The art form (poetry) is enormous and perplexing, and at least half of it is of interest only to scholars and the certifiably disturbed. … As with a vacation in Belgium, all you need is a little patience and the motivation to book your tickets.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kasandra

    I bought this based simply on the title, not realizing it was not meant for actual poets to read, but rather those not familiar with poetry/not totally comfortable with it. That said, I can't think of a single non-poet I'd recommend this book to, for the purpose of understanding better what poets do, why they do it, and how they talk about it. Nothing here rang true for me as a poet in terms of the conversations I have with poet friends, and not much here seemed to be truly applicable only to "m I bought this based simply on the title, not realizing it was not meant for actual poets to read, but rather those not familiar with poetry/not totally comfortable with it. That said, I can't think of a single non-poet I'd recommend this book to, for the purpose of understanding better what poets do, why they do it, and how they talk about it. Nothing here rang true for me as a poet in terms of the conversations I have with poet friends, and not much here seemed to be truly applicable only to "modern" poetry as opposed to poetry in general. Not sure why this author wrote this book, or who the ideal audience might be. It's not badly written, but the book itself seems fairly pointless.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Orr has written a trim, caring, and at times extremely funny book. Unfortunately, he writes like I talk. There is so much hedging and doubling back and thick tangents completely encircling the central point that pictographically his writing would look like a hedge maze. At least when I write, I can make it stronger. The first sentence of his introduction: "This book is about modern poetry." And then immediately, "But a book about modern poetry can't be as confidently 'about' its subject as a book Orr has written a trim, caring, and at times extremely funny book. Unfortunately, he writes like I talk. There is so much hedging and doubling back and thick tangents completely encircling the central point that pictographically his writing would look like a hedge maze. At least when I write, I can make it stronger. The first sentence of his introduction: "This book is about modern poetry." And then immediately, "But a book about modern poetry can't be as confidently 'about' its subject as a book, about, say, college football or soap operas or dog shows or the pasta of Northern Italy." In his chapter "the political" (even his titles lack the confidence to stand proud in title case), he ends the introductory section with Rare is the poet who doesn't view himself as deeply invested in political life, and yet the sloppy, compromised, and frequently idiotic business of democracy--which is, for all its flaws, the way most political change occurs in the country--rarely attracts the attention of our best poets. Is this the inevitable order of things? Or are all the talkers simply talking past each other. It's a fair point, but did he really need to call democracy idiotic (one word) and then abase himself with fifteen words of clarification that he still thinks democracy is the best form of government? And then there's the chapter "form." The longest chapter in the book and I think the best. He starts by breaking out the lines of a popular thriller and comparing it to a published poem and asking (to paraphrase) "would you recognize the 'real' poem if you didn't know? Funny. But then he goes back and forth through examples just to conclude that the lines between not-poetry and poetry and between different types of poetry, are all blurry. Even that isn't enough ambiguity, for he says, "Now, of course, having spent eighteen pages carefully outlining three approaches to formalism, I have to confess: These categories are barely categories." His chapter entitled "ambition" got my hopes up for more force, but ultimately, I think Orr could have avoided most of the back-and-forth examples and counterexamples in the chapter by just Tabooing his words and in place of the word "great," tried to guess at his various speakers' intended meanings. I think he would have found that the two most common uses were "intended to maximally inspire everyone" like a Whitman poem, and "containing transcendent insight," like a Dickenson poem. So Elizabeth Bishop is "containing transcendent insight" but Robert Lowell "intended to maximally inspire everyone" and the different greatnesses of the two poets he spent the most time on would have been explained. Past a chapter (the fishbowl) about the discomforts of the small community of poetry and you reach the summary chapter, entitled "why bother?" He starts off doing the opposite--trying to shoot down every argument for reading poetry, in the course of which he dismisses the idea that poetry is "language at its most distilled and most powerful" (Rita Dove), because the Nike slogan is more concise than a James Merrill poem and Martin Luther King Jr. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is more moving than a William Carlos William's intimate self-portrait poem. Good grief. "Just do it," is rather pithy, yes. So is "Got milk?" and for that matter "truthiness." But so is "a rose is a rose is a rose" and "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and "rage rage against the dying of the light." And does Orr seriously think MLK Jr's rhetorical virtuosity and moral vision was not distilled and empowered by hundreds of readings of the long poetic work-in-translation we know as the King James Bible? Bizarrely, Orr seems unwilling to defend poetry even against "collecting interesting bits of bark" and says "I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful." (Only "can"? Those are some good odds, man!) And the story of his awakening to poetry ends "Had I, then, fallen in love with poetry? Well, we were certainly living together." The end of his book (aside from a touching coda about reading poetry to his dying father) is this: On the other hand, there's something lovely, if sad, in the bestowal of such a gift [the passionate, loving gift of one's time] on an activity that not only can never return the sentiment, but lacks even the consciousness to understand the giver's generosity. It seems beautifully pointless, or pointlessly beautiful, depending on your level of optimism. So, for me, the self-doubt ultimately smothered Orr's highly enjoyable wit (he says the idea that poetry is difficult work yet also uniquely able to move us makes it sound "like solving a calculus problem while being simultaneously zapped with a cattle prod" and describes the feelings elicited by bad personal poetry as like listening to a person sing a tone-deaf karaoke song in dedication to his dead mother). Perhaps a worthwhile read, but I like a guide through the bewilderness to wield the machete a bit more.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Philip Gordon

    As a class assignment, I have been compiling journal entries in response to the content of this book. Please find them pasted after the short review proper. David Orr manages to make a stirring case for poetry without falling too heavily victim to the 'poetry looking at itself' trap. There is some of that—it's impossible to broach the 'poetry is dying' subject without dithering into it further, and even the title of the book hints at the supposed 'pointlessness' of poetry. It's hard to argue that As a class assignment, I have been compiling journal entries in response to the content of this book. Please find them pasted after the short review proper. David Orr manages to make a stirring case for poetry without falling too heavily victim to the 'poetry looking at itself' trap. There is some of that—it's impossible to broach the 'poetry is dying' subject without dithering into it further, and even the title of the book hints at the supposed 'pointlessness' of poetry. It's hard to argue that it's anything but, so Orr's not really at fault for that. What's contained within the book proper is a sort of middle-ground between either hand of poetic consideration. Orr gives good shrift to the ideas his chapters tackle, even asking the big questions when it suits him, and he does so in a pervasively light-hearted and humorous manner that was thoroughly enjoyable to read. My only qualm with the book, or rather one bundled into two, is the nature of its contents omission. 'Beautiful & Pointless' is missing two things; in-depth analysis, and answers. For the first, it's all well and good to tout a body of work as a tour guide for the uninformed, but to only show them five seconds of a given vista without explaining why it's worth checking out. Secondly, the lack of answers I found particularly bothersome—not for someone like me, who's making a life out of studying poetry, but for someone who goes into this book expecting a travel companion; the only conclusion Orr seems to offer with any certainty is that poetry is 'anything and everything' (paraphrased), and that he's not able to say one way or the other whether any of his rambling has a purpose. All that said, this book was an enjoyable read, and certainly a good deal more accessible than any other approach to opening the world of poetry to the average person that I've read before. It's not a book written entirely for me, but I still enjoyed it, and for that reason, I think it deserves a fairly strong grade. Please find my journal entries on the chapters below, with updates as I write my response to the final two chapters. -------------------------------------------- I have no idea where to begin thinking about poetry. It’s a subject so close to my heart and so jam-packed with topics that the journey of a thousand steps can only begin in one of a million directions. Really, I’m not sure where to go—so, with that in mind, I’ll just start by talking about the chapters of our assigned reading, from David Orr’s Beautiful & Pointless (a title I enjoy immensely). Firstly, the personal. I think in my own response to poetry (I I I Me Me Me My My My see what I did there), I have a huge inclination to the personal. I can’t ignore the influence my professors have had on my reading habits—I was a big fan of Whitman-esque oratory and romantic detachment for a long time before Steve Guppy reminded me lyric poetry should be small-focused and life-based—but I think my leanings emerge more from necessity than formulation. Personal poetry says something about the people in our world, rather than the world itself. It’s the same reason we like to watch television shows with juicy drama and characters we can understand and root for (or against), rather than ones with flat archetypes and broad, sweeping generalizations about the way the world works. This isn’t to say that there isn’t power in stuff like that—Whitman is a noted favorite of mine, and the romantics still hold a place in my heart (odd to call something ‘romantic’ impersonal, but only so much as it feels affected and/or put on vs. something honest and open)—but I think, when I read a sentence that feels it could have come from nowhere but some person’s mouth, I feel a tangible twinge of something, whether it’s enjoyment or a yearning to see beyond the line and into the soul of the person who provided it to me. I finished reading Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda-Express Employee by Megan Boyle a while ago—as you might guess from the title, it’s an alt-lit (short for ‘alternative literature’, aka a new generation of disenfranchised twenty-somethings saturated in internet culture writing about alienation, depression, and light drug use) book that purports to be prose, but really to me read more like a hybridization between that and poetry. The labeling comes strictly from the form—it is, for all intents and purpose, exactly what it claims to be, that being a series of unpublished blog posts that made their way from Boyle’s hard-drive to a book I could read. Reading it felt almost wrong because of the honesty with which Boyle details her inner thoughts (including repeated feelings of disappointment with herself, long histories of sordid sexual details stripped of anything that might make them titillating, and a constant pervasive sense of something ‘not-quite-right’ with where she is in the world), but that’s exactly why I liked it. It was a view directly from someone else’s head, the closest I can get to being inside their brain and poking around. I love material like that, and the more honest it is, the better—it’s for that reason, I think, that I love personal poetry. This isn’t to say that anything written from a personal viewpoint is immediately engaging. For me, it comes down to another topic I’ve broached in regards to poetry before: sincerity. I read a collection called Dispatch From the Future by Leigh Stein, which by-and-large purports itself to be intensely personal. It’s certainly written from the author’s viewpoint regularly, and carries a unique style that could only indicate that person’s thought-process—but, in regards to sincerity, it fell entirely flat for me. Disjointed stream-of-consciousness ramblings and unexplained references and allusions do not a personal (or good) poem make. I was fairly upset by the book as a whole, only able to pull out one or two moments of enjoyment, one of outright fury (for a poem basically detailing the plot of The English Patient word for word while giving me nothing new to digest), and primarily, a sense of agitated confusion. This is poetry people enjoy? This is something contemporary and rewarding? There were a litany of publishing locations at the back of the collection, as there are with all poetry collections—and, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly cynic with his head up his own literary ass, I was a bit appalled by how many people apparently enjoyed Miss Stein’s poetry. There was technique in her composition that I took away (all her poems were written almost exactly the same, which was another gripe), but beyond that, I think the search for something worthwhile in poetry is almost something that can only be done by intuition. It’s all well and good to say poetry needs to be ‘earnest’—but in the end, that’s only a quality we can feel, rather than detail, unless at the most basic level. For me, it’s a poetry x-factor; the reason I enjoy personal poets like Steve Roggenbuck and Mira Gonzalez is the same reason I enjoy slightly impersonal ones like Whitman (who, it must be noted, was vastly personal in some sections [Song of myself etc.], had no qualms about defining himself, but also tackled lofty subjects as the voice of an all-seeing orator unafraid to make sweeping judgments about the world from the venue of someone more the world than himself); I like them because they feel real. Whether poetry feels ‘fake’ or ‘real’ is probably something I can only feel at a level deeper than any close-reading or analysis, and that’s a slightly worrisome proposition, if only because it leads to me pointing my finger at a line like “I want to kiss you on top of a pancake pile” (Steve Roggenbuck, me and you cause i like you) and saying “See? See? It’s good poetry!” without being able to say why. Whether or not that’s an important concern is up to me to decide, I guess, but I think the landscape of poetry isn’t a particularly open one right now, and if any part of me believes my oft-stated aims to bring poetry to a wider audience (who hasn’t started a poetic career saying that?), I need to find a way to fix it. Or, maybe just to suppress the logical, reasoning side of my brain, and let ‘because I like it’ be a good enough answer for both myself, and anyone else who wants to spend their time reading poetry. That brings us to the political, which, to be honest, I don’t have a great deal to say on. I’m a fan of cummings, who was staunchly political and satirical in some of poems—Neruda, who if not the latter, was certainly the former—and, as previously noted, Whitman, a name tied so closely to the idea of America that it’s difficult to separate the two. But, in being fans of these poets, and even enjoying their political poems, I don’t feel any connection with them—if there are issues to be tackled, poetry is as equipped to tackle them as anything else, and it’s about the same to say poetry should be political (or can be political) as to say writing in general should (or can). Or speech. Or television. Or movies. I guess the question, then, is ‘What does poetry offer in a political space that nothing else can?’ The short answer is ‘the opportunity to present a message and have no one read it’ (ha), but the long answer might involve a lengthy explanation on thought-processes, the relationship of art and culture, and a history of political poetics. I don’t really want to do any of that, so I guess I’ll just say that I don’t think anyone with a grounded sense of reality believes political poetry is important. Poetry, as much as we lie to ourselves, will not change the world, and least of all now when practically no one is reading it anyway. If you have an important political message to send, you’re deluding yourself if you think writing a poem is the way to do it. Get up, go to protests, even make a bunch of Facebook posts if you feel so inclined—you’ll be doing much more than scribbling a few lines of verse and perhaps getting them published to an audience of a whopping 500 people some day. I want to believe I can change the world, and certainly poetry has inspired me to do that, but I don’t think this is the norm, or even something that I’m sure will work in my case. Poetry is a mode of expression, not a vehicle to change, anymore than Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code converted the world to atheism (it didn’t) or Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist convinced an entire nation to drop their minimum wage jobs and lives of miserable mediocrity to pursue their dreams (also didn’t happen). The casualties of poetic inspiration are few and far between—maybe, in the future, that will change, but for now, I’d rather focus on trying to change it actively than writing about it. On to chapters 3 and 4: form and ambition. I think our discussion in class covered a great deal of what I have to say about form and its place in poetry, but I’ll expound here for the sake of recording my thoughts; suffice it to say, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with form in poetry, whether it’s metrical form or something more convoluted. The conflict, for me, is one of sincerity, a topic I broached in regards to my discussion on Steve Roggenbuck and what his sincerity means. The immediate dichotomy is between that of performance and honesty; I used the metaphor of food preparation as an example. It’s all well and good to go to Beni Hana and have a chef sauté thousands of flying onions with utmost skill, then dump them on your plate to look like a volcano, but that meal will never taste like your grandmother’s mashed potatoes, or a skillfully but painstakingly prepared dish at a four-star restaurant. This example, as in all things in life, parallels poetry: I’d compare the blooming onion to hoops jumped through in service of form, maybe like the syllabicly structured poetic forms (that no one reads these days), the potatoes to a short, homely verse by Bishop (or maybe Williams, at his least esoteric), and the latter to a poem by Lowell; sure of itself, far-reaching in form and execution, but not trying too hard to reach beyond its means. It’s obvious this is a matter of preference, but because we’re in the court of battling opinions, there must be some effort made to determine which approach might have the most inherent merit. I espoused my immediate distaste, along with Professor LePage, for what he deemed ‘crossword puzzle’ poems—and, in recent readings containing Sylvia Plath, Leigh Stein, and Heather Christle, I’m growing more and more certain that there is a certain type of poetry that I loathe. That isn’t to say that any of the above mentioned poets are slaves to form, but they’re the manifest iceberg providing the crushing mass of what I find most problematic with concerns for form over substance: if the act of composition or the product as a result alienates any part of the audience, the person doing the composing has fucked up somehow. This is a pretty fundamental divide between me and more ‘literary’ approaches to poetry: above all, I believe good poetry is accessible. I’m a pretty contemplative and astute guy; if I read a poem and I can’t make heads or tails of it, it doesn’t matter how much ‘meaning’ is buried inside, it’s probably not worth digging out by that point, and furthermore is responsible for furthering a prevailing attitude toward poetry that is going to sink it completely if we’re not too careful. For that reason, I quibble a bit with form for the sake of form; but, at the same time, there’s a rich tradition of formalist verse that does exactly the opposite. Many people, even if they’ve never studied poetry before, could tell you at least something about a haiku, a sonnet, or even a poem that uses simple rhyming, iambic meter. These things, if applied properly, can be in the service of poetry—but anything else, no matter how thought provoking once it’s broken apart, runs the risk of alienating people. I wrote a series of poems for a project a while ago that were, as much as I could make them, a blending of form and aim—I did a poem about singing that shifted between dactylic and trochaic meter (verse and chorus) and used predominant letter focus in each stanza to represent a chord and/or chord change (C, E, A, G, etc, and words like ‘sharp’ buried inbetween). To me, this was a fabulous blending of content and purpose, but I don’t think a single person reading the poem ‘got’ it—and I thought it was pretty damn obvious. To that end, when we talk about ‘form’, anymore than it can be a prescribed arrangement to assist delivery or composition, does it have a purpose? I don’t want form to be anything it’s necessary to take a class to understand—but then the problem is thought, not poetry itself. This is a deeper issue in-and-of-itself; that being, the notion of ‘thought’ as it applies to poetry, or literature in general. It’s very difficult to enter into a discussion about this subject without falling victim to the doom-and-gloom prophesying every literary type is tend to lapse into; the gut reaction is to say that no one thinks anymore. Poetry, literature, and reading as a whole, are the only mediums that seem to require time and effort to enjoy, contrary to things like the internet, television, radio, movies, etc. These things can all be aided by the application of thought, but the amount of television shows that sit the viewer down and say ‘think about this’ are so few they might only number in the dozens. I don’t know if this is a real problem. I always catch myself when I start thinking about it; am I using purely anecdotal evidence to support what I believe is an existing bias? Am I blinded by my own passion for the medium? What does any of this have to do with sonnets? I don’t want to assess those questions any further, but I suppose the end-all-be-all is that I think I’m on to something, and that poems like You’re Miss Reading and anything else doing fancy cocktail tricks with punctuation and palindromes are hurting poetry more than they’re helping it. This might be the part for me to break into a private dissertation; a rant about what poetry needs to do or become, and how I hope to make it do so—but I’ll be concise: Openness. Honesty. Simplicity. We don’t need to dumb down, but we’ve had a hell of a long time of poetry being for people who loved it already; what we need to now is make poetry for people who don’t know they like it yet. That’s all I’ll say about the subject for the time being. A lot of the above ties into any discussion about ambition; I was immediately piqued when Orr began discussing the understanding and aims of poetry, as opposed to its mechanics. But, as with almost every other chapter of Beautiful & Pointless, the end result seems to be that we don’t have any answers. Searching for objectivity in creative disciplines is probably as fruitful as trying to write the perfect poem in the first place—but does it do any good to tell the audience of a book like this (the confused and everyday) that we can’t tell them anything? People fear the unknown. Poetry is intimidating already because it’s ‘difficult to understand’ to many people. So does filling a book of several hundred pages with more questions do any good? If we’re to take Orr’s analogy to a tour guide, I’m not sure I’d want to pick up the travel pamphlet telling me “Belgium is kind of like this but not really well whatever have fun!” Novels and poetry we might read for questions, but usually, when dissecting dissertations or instructions, I want answers. That brief tangent aside, I don’t have a lot to say that I haven’t said already on ambition, other than perhaps this: I think lack of ambition is certainly a problem in poetry, moreso ‘current’ poetry than anything. To me, the contradiction is obvious: old men in coffee shops reading to audiences of a dozen people about the things most important in life; saying ‘carpe diem’ and whittling away your life in a small room amounting to nothing. It’s difficult to live life as poetry would have us believe, but if we’re writing that poetry, we’d damn well better try. It’s a bit like following through on your public presentation; if a motivational speaker spends 18 hours a day on Reddit, we need to take his rhetoric with a grain of salt. If you want me to believe poetry is important, you’d better prove that it is, instead of releasing a collection once every five years and spending the rest waiting to die. I admit that’s a perhaps too harsh view of the landscape of contemporary poetry, but dammit—I’ll make no apologies. I’m young, full of piss and vinegar, and I want poetry to matter. The question of whether it does in the first place, and how it might if it doesn’t, is a larger one, but I’m going to start by believing in what poetry preaches; the inherent ambition of all life; the meaning of things; and I’m going to live that to the fullest. Other poets would do well to follow suit

  24. 5 out of 5

    Martha Silano

    I just finished reading David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry (Harper 2011), and for the most part it was an enjoyable read, mainly because Orr, besides knowing a lot about the po-business, has an uncanny ability to cause a reader like me to cackle, guffaw, and, well, LOL. For instance, "there are more transparently veiled personal references in modern poems than there are grits and South Carolina," and the whole bit about poets being part horse and part human (and thus n I just finished reading David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry (Harper 2011), and for the most part it was an enjoyable read, mainly because Orr, besides knowing a lot about the po-business, has an uncanny ability to cause a reader like me to cackle, guffaw, and, well, LOL. For instance, "there are more transparently veiled personal references in modern poems than there are grits and South Carolina," and the whole bit about poets being part horse and part human (and thus not quite fitting into academia). In the final chapter of his book, "why bother?" he muses on whether it's so bad to play Dice Wars or watch an episode of Top Chef instead of reading or writing poems; it's a valid question, no doubt, but it also helps to put this all into perspective: who in their right might would choose to struggle through complex mathematical theorems when he or she could spend the day bowling, or knitting, or whatever floats your boat. In general I admire the way he pokes fun at poets and their petty squabbles, while at the same time making it resoundingly clear that poetry does matter to thousands of people (though, okay, 50% of them may only be reading Billy Collins). Orr wastes no time letting us know that his goal is not to help novice poetry readers figure out how to read poems, those strange things they take one look at and go “I have no idea what this is … maybe I don’t like it?” No, no, it’s not going to be Orr’s task to assist the clueless reader with understanding what a sestina or a villanelle is—if you want to know about specific forms and what the heck metrics are, he reminds us you can go ahead and Google all that. His focus, instead, will be analogous to “sit[ting] in a bar and listen [ing ] as a Georgia fan and a Clemson fan discuss a game they’ve just been to.” Never mind that you have no idea what a wide receiver does, or what it means when there’s a flag on the play. What you will learn while you’re sidled up to the bar with these two fellas will give you a sense of why anyone would love a game you have to play like somebody just hit your mother with a two-by-four. All good in theory, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is no way in hell someone who isn’t acquainted with poetry would bother to read Orr’s book. First of all: Because we are different things to different people at different times, it’s more helpful to think about combining unlike identities that it is to talk about the ‘I’ of the poem and the “author himself” (who is better thought of as a combination of selves, some of them potentially more personal in particular moments than others. Does the author seriously think that the typical American non-poet is going to parse that one? But okay, I give him credit for trying. Then he goes onto start talking about Confessionalism—Lowell, Sexton, Plath, the ones whose poetry depends on the “announcement of personal facts that might be embarrassing, disturbing, or simply the kind of thing usually considered indiscreet.” I’m not so sure about this definition, especially when he shares that Catullus was confessing his heart out back in 50 B.C., calling on the gods to have pity and “pluck out of me my destruction.” Nothing indiscreet or embarrassing same goes for a poem by Ann Sexton titled “In Celebration of My Uterus,” where she is quite discreet and doesn't embarrass herself in the least. In fact, her poem is not disturbing at all. It displays, in fact, much restraint. Sexton is Whitmanesque in vision and scope, and anything but personal in this poem: There is enough here to please a nation Many women are singing together of this: one is in a shoe factory cursing the machine, one is at the aquarium tending a seal, one is dull at the wheel of her Ford, one is at the toll gate collecting, one is tying the cord of a calf in Arizona, one is straddling a cello in Russia, one is shifting pots on the stove in Egypt, one is painting her bedroom walls moon color, one is dying but remembering a breakfast, one is stretching on her mat in Thailand, one is wiping the ass of her child, one is staring out the window of a train in the middle of Wyoming and one is anywhere and some are everywhere and all seem to be singing, although some can not sing a note. But okay, he messed up with defining Confessionalism, no biggie. I can get past it. Besides, he begs of us, in his introduction, to disagree with him, so really I’m only doing what he's called on me, on all of us, to do. In the next chapter, “the political," he takes Robert Hass down for writing “pseudo-political poetry,” that is, poems that “put forward no argument, make no revelatory comparison, confront no new audience, engage no misconception in language …” etc., that basically Hass is either talking to himself or to an audience of his peers, all of whom don’t need any convincing about anything, but mostly not about anything to do with the Right, including Bush’s war. Orr scoffs at the notion that all poetry is political, and I applaud him for that (it always sounded like a cop-out to me), and I am glad that he shows us how King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” contains all the essential attributes of a really good political poem, but why doesn’t Orr provide any other examples of political poetry—great political poetry? Even a snippet of Wilfred Owens would do in a pinch, but there are hordes of 20th and 21st century masters of the political poem (Heffernan, Rich, C.K. Williams, Forche Baraka, Dickey, Wagoner, Wrigley, Kizer, Levertov, Komunyakaa, Harper, Levis…), and he’s neglected to cite even ONE of ‘em. In his defense, perhaps he didn’t anticipate that an actual poet would be reading his primer on poets and what they quibble/gossip/obsess about, but still, doesn’t he owe it to the general public to get it RIGHT about the great political poems being written, and not just the ones that were written before 9/11 but seem to be about 9/11? I am so sick of hearing about the chickens coming home to roost and the poem by Auden that’s actually about WW2, especially when we have poems like Roger Bonair Agard’s “All Black Penguin” to add to the conversation of what makes a truly great political poem. But enough about that. The next chapter attempts to explain form. Call me dense, but I’ve been studying poetry for thirty-five years, and I have to say I had some trouble wading through some of this chapter (there was this half a page that dealt with this concept called “’X’ that we think (and we think the poet thinks we’re supposed to recognize as being associated with the poem”), but in the end I came out of it with this: one side thinks free verse is the shit, and the other side thinks form is the shit. There will never be any kind of resolution or agreement about this, but hey, some poets like writing in fixed forms, and you, too, should get drunk on the stuff if it’s your cup of whiskey. whatEV. But what got me was the part where he’s talking about a Karen Volkman sonnet, sharing how, according to Christian Bok, the poem is “radicalized,” when actually very akin to Anglo Saxon syllabics, that is, the earliest type of poetry in the English language. How, suddenly, did the kenning and the strong-stress alliterative line with the caesura down the middle suddenly become radical and new? And yet, this is what Bok/Orr tell us is so. And now we’re onto ambition, and the 10-page explanation of what Great is, and why Lowell seemed like the hottest of the hot while he was alive (because he used words like “decry” and “battle”) whereas Bishop is now viewed as the way more Queen of the Moderns, and hey, so will be Kay Ryan the Grande-Dame of the early aughts. Seriously, the equation that male and white equals Great, though brought obviously to the fray in the ambition chapter, is pretty much apparent from page 1 of this book right through to “The Owl and the Pussy Cat” on the final page. How does Orr get away with alluding to a time when the poetry world was essentially a country club, even alluding to the fact that many (including him?!) still consider it a country club, without coming right out and saying, at least in his insular bubble of a poetry world, it remains a country club, a very white and mostly male one, where anyone with so much as a vowel at the end of his or her name might be refused a post-golf drink? His book is pretty much a white man-fest of the tallest order, and he doesn’t seem to have any problem with that, nor did his publisher. They should be ashamed. As for why bother reading poetry, by the end of the book I’m sorta asking the same question myself. So you can shoot off your filthy mouth on Foetry? So you can maybe get ten people to read your lame-ass poem about some old poet dying and still being pissed that Mark Strand is a bigger big shot than you are? I mean… it’s enough to make me run in the other direction, and I’ve been in love with poetry for most of my life. Still, I’m a sucker for the stuff, and just like Orr’s dad, I keep coming back to that runcible spoon.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robin Friedman

    Serious Play David Orr is a young man with the rare good fortune of combining both a vocation and an avocation. He is a practicing attorney and a graduate of Yale Law School. Orr is also a noted critic of modern poetry who writes regularly for the New York Times and for "Poetry" magazine. Orr's most recent article in the latter publication is titled "Poetry of and About", and it combines his vocation and avocation. The article examines a new anthology of poems loosely related to the law. Most rea Serious Play David Orr is a young man with the rare good fortune of combining both a vocation and an avocation. He is a practicing attorney and a graduate of Yale Law School. Orr is also a noted critic of modern poetry who writes regularly for the New York Times and for "Poetry" magazine. Orr's most recent article in the latter publication is titled "Poetry of and About", and it combines his vocation and avocation. The article examines a new anthology of poems loosely related to the law. Most readers without a serious interest in verse will be unfamiliar with "Poetry". But Orr's new and first book, "Rare and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry" develops some of the themes of the article in a way that is intended to appeal to readers with little familiarity with the bewildering world of contemporary poetry. Orr's book is designed to introduce contemporary poetry to the large majority of readers who have no acquaintance with it. He writes in a free, informal, and inviting style which serves to invite readers who, with substantial reason, will regard modern poetry as a forbidding, arcane art form. Orr also has a gift for a quirky, idiosyncratic turn of phrase. He introduces startling and seemingly unconnected figures of a sudden and out of the blue before turning to show how the introduction pertains to the matter at hand -- much in the way some poets may introduce a difficult metaphor. How does Orr want the reader to approach contemporary poems? Many readers might think that this involves a quasi-spiritual approach or a technical approach with close attention to meter, metaphor, and language. But Orr wants the reader to approach poetry in the manner of -- Belgium. It is a matter of travelling to a foreign country about which one initially knows a little but not much. The traveler may pick up some guides and basic information in advance and then learn and follow his interest as he goes along. So it is with modern poetry which is best approached, for Orr, in a spirit of openness and adventure with the expectation that the journey will prove strange and that one may at times get lost along the way. Orr tries to give the reader some guideposts to modern poetry. More important, he describes his own love for the art while trying to explain how and why poetry might matter to people or be important. Thus in his several chapters Orr tries to capture some themes and tendencies of contemporary poetry. He explains the current academic-like atmosphere in which poetry is written and struggles to describe the love and the hold of poetry. His chapters combine his own quirky observations and writing with illustrations which usually consist of segments of different poems that show competing tendencies in poetry. In general, Orr is most effective when he discusses specific poems and poets. The guidelines Orr offers to modern poetry include chapters on "the personal" -- what this may be and how it is reflected in different poems, "the political" -- which examines how poetical speech sometimes is related to political speech, "form" -- a fine chapter which includes much more than a discussion of the difference between metric poetry and free verse, "ambition" -- and most of which consists of an insightful discussion of the differences in poetic style between two modern American masters who were close friends, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, These chapters are originally and easily written. I think they will help many readers as a stepping-off point. There are a couple of depressingly gossipy chapters in the book about poetry and the modern university (a theme of the magazine article I mentioned at the outset of this review) which are less edifying to read but probably still of value for a newcomer to the world of poetry. Then Orr concludes the book with a personal and candid discussion of the broad question of the book: why read poetry at all. Here again, Orr writes in a peppery way which both acknowledges and deflates certain shibboleths. Orr points to the effort required to get to know poetry and the personal, not entirely explainable character of human choice. Orr writes: "[I]t's hard to describe what red looks like, or how one's relationship with a child or parent feels. The same is true of poetry. I can't tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful. There's little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident." (p. 179) Orr is an admirer of, among others, Robert Frost and quotes this well-known American writer several times in his book. In his article in "Poetry", Orr deals at some length with Frost's poem "Two Tramps in Mud Time" with its famous concluding lines: "My object in living is to unite My avocation and my vocation As my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one, And the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done for Heaven and the future's sakes." Frost's poem of earnest playfulness seems to me to capture much of the allure of modern poetry for Orr. His book should help to guide some readers in the direction of poetry. Robin Friedman

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    Go to most bookshops today, and you're hard pressed to find a poetry section- if you do, you might find that the books of modern poetry are outnumbered by anthologies, and how-to books such as How to Read Poetry, or The Poetry Toolkit. At first blush David Orr's book might seem to be another in this genre, but he has set himself a slightly different task, and it's one he pulls off with a considerable amount of verve. It's important to point out at the beginning of this review that Orr is writing Go to most bookshops today, and you're hard pressed to find a poetry section- if you do, you might find that the books of modern poetry are outnumbered by anthologies, and how-to books such as How to Read Poetry, or The Poetry Toolkit. At first blush David Orr's book might seem to be another in this genre, but he has set himself a slightly different task, and it's one he pulls off with a considerable amount of verve. It's important to point out at the beginning of this review that Orr is writing specifically of the milieu of modern poetry in the USA, where creative writing courses have carved out a sizable niche in academe for 'professional' poets, and all that means (both good and bad). This is quite different from the Australian situation, where there is much less scope for poets to turn their craft into a way to earn a living, so my "Down Under" viewpoint might be a little different to Orr's (presumed) intended audience. Orr has divided his work into six sections - The Personal, The Political, Form, Ambition, The Fishbowl, and Why Bother? The first section, 'The Personal', begins by describing the responses Orr gets at parties when he says what he does for a living (he is a poetry critic). This moves into a discussion of what the personal actually means in poetry, especially given the confessional nature of a lot of modern verse. The point I think Orr is trying to make is that a reader shouldn't let the feeling of 'overhearing' a poem take away from the experience of it's language or technical skill. He subtly points out that this criticism could be applied to some poets as well. The short chapter entitled 'The Political', deals with what it means to be political in poetry, and raises the conundrum that many (American) poets today are highly politicised (usually on the Left of the spectrum), but their poetry shys away from direct political statement, or fails to reach it's presumed target audience - Orr raising the conjecture that poets today might be so enclosed in the ivory tower that they have actually lost the ability to speak to the masses (and also points out that there may never have been a time when they did). If you have got this far into the review, you'll realise by now that this is not your typical guide to poetry, but you might think the next section,'Form' might brings us back to more familiar 'how to' territory. You'd be wrong of course. In fact this is the best part of the book, because Orr does not go down the usual path of technical explanation of form. He describes the battle that rages between formalism and it's opposites, and in so doing has given us some new methods and terms to use when discussing form. Metrical form is obvious, but then he gives us two other terms, 'Resemblance form', and 'Mechanical form'. These are quite handy and useful ways to look at and perhaps categorize modern poetry - the idea behind Orr's concept of resemblance form is that something that resembles a classic form should be treated as such, even if it has been pulled apart with (post)modern glee and reconstructed in a way that Shakespeare may not understand (Orr does point out that even the Great Man himself was able to stretch forms to suit his purposes on occasion). Mechanical form is a category that Orr uses to describe poetry that sets itself some sort of artificial limitation, such as only containing a certain number of syllables a line. Of course, because this is the postmodern age, Orr then spends several pages disavowing the idea of categorizing form at all, and coming to rest in the argument on the side of 'is it interesting?', rather than giving too much weight to any particular form. In the section titled 'Ambition', Orr looks at the state of American poetry today in terms of what makes a poet ambitious, and what that means for a poet writing today. He has a very interesting section on Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, connected in so many ways, and the relative change in the posthumous reception of the two, with Bishop on the ascendant and Lowell declining in reputation. He makes the point that Lowell was self-consciously a Great Poet and strived to be so, a position that Bishop eschewed, perhaps to concentrate on her craft. It's instructive to note that Lowell's collected works amount to 1200 pages, where Bishop's checks in at about 200. The change to the nature of what it means to be a poet in the modern age has done things, in Orr's opinion, that make it harder for a Lowell-type Greatness to be possible today, and perhaps give us a greater appreciation for Bishop's less 'shouty' form of achievement. There is no easy answer to the question of what it means to be an ambitious poet in the early twenty-first century, and Orr gives the answer that may in fact be closest to the truth - find your voice and develop it as much as you can. 'The Fishbowl' brings us back closer to earth, being a discussion of what the "academization" of poetry has done to it's practitioners, and whether that change is of detriment to the art. Orr gives space to both sides of the argument, explaining how academia provides a comfortable place for someone to find the time to write, and gives poetry an importance that it might otherwise lack. He also points out that the ivory tower can put some limitations on a poet as well, in that a potential poet needs to conform to the appropriate career milestones and make sure they keep in with the right people to get ahead, which of course can actually end up being antithetical to the best poetry. What Orr doesn't really discuss in this section are the poets that are not part of the academic treadmill, who are Insurance Executives or Librarians or Labourers. This section of the book is fascinating, but it is very narrow, and it is unclear to me whether Orr sees academic poets as the only ones worth talking about. Certainly if you are a poet in academe you are taking your work very seriously, but surely so was Philip Larkin (the Librarian), Wallace Stevens (the Insurance Company Executive), or John Shaw Neilson (the Labourer). In 'Why Bother?', Orr moves into a more personal mode, where he attempts to answer a question that possibly has never had a definitive answer. He certainly doesn't provide one, and is unashamed to state that. Why Not? is a perfectly valid response, and in the end is one that Orr gives us, after a quick ride through some of the arguments that have been put forward for poetry over the years. In his Introduction to this book Orr gives the reader permission to disagree with him - he also gives the reader permission to read poetry without necessarily knowing too much about it at first - he uses the metaphor of visiting another country, in which at first things don't make much sense, but if you keep wandering around eventually you do start to get the hang of it all. To stretch that metaphor, Orr's book is like one of those short, hip guidebooks that eschews the "normal" sights and restaurants, and instead provides an interesting view of some parts of the country of modern poetry that will help the traveller get around the countryside. It's well written, pacy and humorous in parts, and certainly more fun than a Lonely Planet Guide. Check out my other reviews at http://aviewoverthebell.blogspot.com.au/

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alarie

    First the good news: parts of this book are hilarious, worthy of Stephen Fry. I was laughing so loudly my husband left for a quieter room to read. My 3-star rating is an average between the sections I enjoyed and the long discussions I found tedious and repetitive. However, I’d recommend buying or checking it out just to read the Introduction. Orr says new readers of poetry should approach a poem like you would approach Brazil, then proceeds to convince me he is correct. He explains that when yo First the good news: parts of this book are hilarious, worthy of Stephen Fry. I was laughing so loudly my husband left for a quieter room to read. My 3-star rating is an average between the sections I enjoyed and the long discussions I found tedious and repetitive. However, I’d recommend buying or checking it out just to read the Introduction. Orr says new readers of poetry should approach a poem like you would approach Brazil, then proceeds to convince me he is correct. He explains that when you travel to a place with a different culture and language, you’re going to be confused at times, but you’ll “accept the confusion as part of the experience.” My second favorite section was the chapter titled “Forms,” where Orr offers an outline of the history of poetic forms. “Prior to 1910” is lumped together. In the 60s and 70s, “poets jettisoned regular forms in favor of long, loopy Whitmanian lines; chatty, surrealistic lines…; and short, gnomic lines about snow, bones, and mystical whatnots. It was the Age of Aquarius!” I was also amused in the chapter “The Political,” when he says what I’ve often told people myself, that most poets “lean left.” He goes on to say, “There are maybe five conservative American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.” If you enjoy long discussions about why and what for, you may enjoy the entire book more than I did. I just wasn’t my cup of herbal tea.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maximilian Gerboc

    I'm only now starting to read poetry, and, wanting to glean from it as much as I can, I decided to read a book about poetry. I was expecting a deep dive analysis and lists of poets in various, clearly defined genres. "Beautiful and Pointless" did so much more than that. It asked the question, why read poetry at all? In answering the question, Orr does in fact break down and summarize some poetic movements, structures, etc. But more than anything, he takes poetry off the pedestal. In the end, he I'm only now starting to read poetry, and, wanting to glean from it as much as I can, I decided to read a book about poetry. I was expecting a deep dive analysis and lists of poets in various, clearly defined genres. "Beautiful and Pointless" did so much more than that. It asked the question, why read poetry at all? In answering the question, Orr does in fact break down and summarize some poetic movements, structures, etc. But more than anything, he takes poetry off the pedestal. In the end, he states, "Poetry is a small, vulnerable human activity no better or more powerful than thousands of other small, vulnerable human activities." We read poetry because we want to read poetry. Because it touches people - not everyone, and that's okay - in various ways. Poetry deserves to be analyzed, debated, and muddled through. It's a serious endeavor which inspires authenticity and sincerity and earnestness, but Orr is able to explain all this with a great sense of humor and is able to point out the human flaws of poets, which emerge in their poetry. Ultimately, as he concludes, "Reader, there are worse things to like. Or to love."

  29. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a very thoughtful, plain-spoken book about modern poetry by a part-time reviewer for the NY Times. I would recommend if you are specifically interested in modern poetry. If not, it it not likely the book for you. It is not so much a guide to understanding poetry, but more of a tome about why you might like it, the reasons you might like it, and what you may gain from liking it. But it does also give explications about the craft itself, and I think this is something that can be helpful. If This is a very thoughtful, plain-spoken book about modern poetry by a part-time reviewer for the NY Times. I would recommend if you are specifically interested in modern poetry. If not, it it not likely the book for you. It is not so much a guide to understanding poetry, but more of a tome about why you might like it, the reasons you might like it, and what you may gain from liking it. But it does also give explications about the craft itself, and I think this is something that can be helpful. If you wish to "enter" into the world of modern poetry, then in terms of books available today, this is a good one. I like it for that aspect because I have found some books on poetry to be overly technical and thus lose me as a reader who just wants to build up a foundation rather than trying to scale a skyscraper.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nia Nymue

    A dry and inconsistently informative book. The writer claims that he wants to share with readers how _he_ approaches reading and analysing poetry, but he doesn't seem to do this. He talks about different aspects of poetry, which goes beyond just analysing poetry to considering the politics in poetry scenes and whether poetry is a better alternative to other pursuits of pleasure. When short on time, the chapters on Form and Ambition are the only ones you need to read. "How to read Literature" by A dry and inconsistently informative book. The writer claims that he wants to share with readers how _he_ approaches reading and analysing poetry, but he doesn't seem to do this. He talks about different aspects of poetry, which goes beyond just analysing poetry to considering the politics in poetry scenes and whether poetry is a better alternative to other pursuits of pleasure. When short on time, the chapters on Form and Ambition are the only ones you need to read. "How to read Literature" by Terry Eagleton is superior as a guidebook, both in terms of the structure it suggests when reading literature, as well as in the style of writing. His wit is superb.

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