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The Secret Life of Poems: A Poetry Primer [Paperback]

Tom Paulin
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011
The Secret Life of Poems is a primer which offers a poem - or on occasion an excerpt - succeeding with commentary in which rhythm, form, metre and sources are the order of the day, not ethical commentary or descriptive paraphrase. This brief engagement with forty-seven poems is intended for students and readers of poetry, and seeks to explain how poetry works by bringing into view the hidden order of specific poems.

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The Secret Life of Poems: A Poetry Primer + How to Read a Poem + An Introduction to English Poetry
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057127871X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571278718
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 289,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

An encounter with some of the most celebrated poems in the English language, by one of the most distinguished poet-critics of our time.

From the Inside Flap

The Secret Life of Poems is a primer which offers a poem – or on occasion an excerpt – with succeeding commentary in which rhythm, form, metre and sources are the order of the day, not ethical commentary or descriptive paraphrase. This brief engagement with forty-seven poems is intended for students and readers of poetry, and seeks to explain how poetry works by bringing into view the hidden order of specific poems. The idea for the book came from Tom Paulin’s experience of reading a poem by Yeats, and realising the subtlety of its workings as the sudden dawning of an acoustic or musical aspect: ‘I began to imagine a critical account of his or any poet’s work which jettisoned all earnest explication of the text and concentrated on sound, cadence, metre, rhyme, form.’ The Secret Life of Poems is true to Yeats’s dictum that ‘Words alone are certain good’. It is at once an anthology and a plein-air encounter with some of the most celebrated poems in the language, by one of the most distinguished poet-critics of our time. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Closer Look 9 April 2008
Format:Hardcover
Paulin is the master of close reading, and, as previous reviewers have mentioned, this book enables the reader to sit at Paulin's shoulder as he analyses a very particular selection of poems spanning the past thousand years. Whilst close reading, with its concentration on metre and rhythm, can be a dry pursuit, Paulin enlivens it immeasurably through his highly subjective, confrontational and enlightening interpretations.
What comes through most strongly from a reading of this marvellous book is Paulin's love of the canon of clear, emotionally direct, muscular poetry. We move from Bunyan to John Clare to Hopkins (whose shadow hangs over much of Paulin's work) to Heaney and with each we are taught a whole new way of reading and enjoying the poems.
Spend time learning how to read again in Paulin's company - he brings a freshness and vigour to everything touched by his unique intellect.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive Poetry primer 2 Feb 2008
By Withnail67 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If you are a student of English literature, or a reader looking to sharpen their appreciation of an art form that seems to instil a special sort of panic in the average person, this book is a must.

Paulin is a controversial and outspoken academic with a high media profile, a unique presence on late night review programmes. Over the last thirty years his prolific output of poetry, criticism and drama has been a consistent presence in the British literary scene. He is a champion of the urgent and politicised reading of poetry, and it is no accident that his literary heroes are users of powerful, rugged and vital language such as Frost, Rossetti, Hopkins and Heaney.

The reading here are controversial and sometimes sensational. The effect of reading them cover to cover is cumulative, rather like engaging in a sequence of hard working tutorials with a teacher of the first rank. You will not agree with all of the critical points raised in the book, but they will send you back to the original texts with your preconceptions challenged and lazy interpretations routed. A fine book that is a bold shout about the nature of poetry as vital and life-affirming art.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly compelling 22 July 2008
Format:Hardcover
These are utterly compelling and convincing analyses of an intriguing selection of poems. Almost exhausting in their relentless flow of ideas urging the reader deeper and deeper and on and on, I think this is a marvellous book and would love(but don't expect)more from Paulin who skilfully dissects each piece without diminishing its unique beauty and power. Wonderful - and repays rereading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Odd 31 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback
This is an idiosyncratic little book, less a primer than a space for Paulin to work out his own obsessions, and because there's no introduction, one is never fully aware of what he's trying to achieve. The book also feels uneven in its approach: while the attention paid to prosody and sonic effects in some poems becomes overly technical to the point of tedium, in other critiques Paulin seems to leave the poem behind altogether - the piece on Herbert's great poem 'The Flower' turns into a discussion about Lawrence. He also manages to smuggle in his own agendas, for example, the ship in Auden's `Musee des Beaux Arts' becomes a means for him to take a swipe at Auden for deserting England in WWII, and the poem, indeed Auden's entire body of work, is written off as a `failure'. Strange.

While the historical awareness in these readings can be thought-provoking, the world Paulin is introducing his readers to is almost exclusively male, and since it regards itself as a 'primer' this is the book's most obvious flaw. Of the 39 poets discussed here, only two are women, so one can only assume that either Paulin doesn't read women poets or doesn't rate them. And for a critic so interested in the political, that whiffs of the old boys club.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening 24 Nov 2011
By Barry B
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is slightly hard work, if - like me - your are not familiar with some of the technical terms used to discuss poetry. But, it's well worth it. The prose is economical, to the point, and it is both insightful and provocative (in the positive sense of really making you think critically). It's made me appreciate and understand poetry in a way I just hadn't thought about prior to reading it. I like the way it makes the connection between poetry and ordinary everyday life.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A necessary book 16 Jan 2008
Format:Hardcover
This may be the only such selection of which one can say, "This is a necessary book." Most good anthologies offer the twin pleasures of discovery and quarrel: "I never knew that poem" and "Why wasn't this poem included?" But this is an anthology which instructs as well as it delights. It makes one exclaim, "How I wish he was my teacher!" All poets should live in hope of writing a poem worthy of Tom Paulin's vital attention. Ben Sonnenberg
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