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Wednesday, October 20, 2021


Poetry month is not ‘pointless’

In honor of poetry month I have decided to take the time to review a book on poetry out this April. Now, I know what many of you may be thinking, “Wow, it’s poetry month already and I’ve yet to write a sestina, listen to a poetry reading or pore over volumes of Keats at the local library!”

But for the other 95 percent of the population who may not be aware of this time-honored tradition and perhaps less savvy in the ways of the limerick, David Orr’s book on modern poetry, “Beautiful & Pointless,” is a fine introduction.

In his book, Orr appeals to the general masses for whom he admits that poetry is most likely a “subject of at best mild and confused interest.” The crux of the problem Orr insists is not so much a lack of knowledge, but a lack of understanding of how to react to the art form.

He compares poetry to a foreign country that one has yet to visit. He reasons that you wouldn’t “become paralyzed with anxiety because you didn’t speak fluent Flemish” if you were visiting Belgium.

Instead “you might try to learn a few useful phrases, or read a little Belgian history, or thumb through a guidebook.” But mostly you’d “accept the confusion as part of the experience.”

Similarly he suggests poetry can be appreciated with just a little bit of preparation and a willingness to accept the unfamiliar. Orr elaborates on the situation of poetry in the modern world with fascinating insight.

He gives the reader generous examples throughout the book that help illuminate his concepts. Through the many textual references and various poems, an interactive element is added to the book.

A section on resemblance form, for instance, is followed up by examples from Paul Muldoon, Koyayashi Issa and Dylan Thomas, which help give the format a shape in your mind.

In addition to explaining many poetic devices, Orr also dispels many inaccurate ideas commonly believed about the form and function of poetry. He reassesses the meaning of the personal and the political in poetry, redefines form and explains the value of poetry for poets and society in general.

His book is sectioned into six chapters concerning different facets of poetry and the poets involved.

This dichotomy makes the book very accessible since any chapter can be read independently of the whole; if you feel you don’t have time to devote to reading the entire book or don’t have a particular interest in certain sections.

“Beautiful and Pointless” is an excellent review of the basic history of poetry, the heart of its culture and the enigmatic reasons it has maintained its allure despite the vast incomprehension that surrounds it.

Orr relates the material with an enthusiasm and humor that engages the reader. Whether expounding on the lipogram or explaining the ambivalence of ambition in poetic academia, his book does so with clarity and charisma.

If poetry is, as Hazlitt suggests, the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself, it may be one well worth learning.

As poetry month winds to a close, there’s no better time to become better acquainted with this art of the beautifully pointless.

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