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HALL OF FAMEon 12 January 2003
Although I do buy some modern poetry much of the stuff that gets published seems to be written for a tiny clique, and few (other than Wendy Cope and Carol Anne Duffy) are as immediately accesible as Philip Larkin. The Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, never gets a poem printed without a ton of derision from hacks, which doesn't help those who'd like to find out if anyone new is as good as the poets we read at school and university.
Ruth Padel's collection, taken from a weekly newspaper column in the Independent on Sunday is therefore a real thrill, whether you're a student trying to find out how to approach modern poetry or an interested but bewildered reader. She puts modern poetry into a literary and historical context, with a light, witty touch, and explores 52 poems line by line, with a bit about each poet as introduction. Her own metaphors in doing so are sometimes as good as anything in the poem - I loved her description of Peter Redgrove's "playful love poem" to The Visible Baby "offering its own bright images and spell-like repetitions like a coloured mobile."
Though not, I imagine, includsive of all good modern poets this is a terrific way in.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 September 2009
A most enjoyable collection, each poem analysed extensively by Ruth Padel as part of her series of poetry articles in The Independent newspaper. I found that my understanding of most of the poems here was enriched enormously by Ruth Padel's analysis, though the format did pall a little towards the end. Some poems I felt were slightly unworthy of such depth of discussion, but these were in the minority. In the main, the selection is marvellously eclectic, with a welcome emphasis on equity between women's and men's poetry.

In a fascinating introduction, Ruth Padel discusses issues of bias towards the poetry written by men. She also lays to rest the idea that women's poetry deals with the concrete, domestic inward life, while men bestride the public world - which receives more poetic acclaim. It is pitiable to realise such a defence is still required.
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on 21 July 2002
After 35 years since reading poetry for A levels I found it hard to get back into reading poetry, and modern poetry in particular. What were the "rules", what were the boundaries, what the hell was going on?
I found that this books interesting introductory essay, helpful and soothing (I wasn't as far off the mark as I thought I was).
However it was Ms Padel's analysis of the poems along with a brief biography of each poet that I found most helpful and easily applicable to other poems.
Most importantly, I found myself as a male, reading female poets with enjoyment and interest instead of my usual defensive, faint bewilderment.
Highly recommended for the nervous and bewildered.
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on 25 November 2012
I think this an intriguing, informed and accessible book/collection.
I love the presentation and style which gently and firmly guides the reader.
I admire hugely Ruth Padel's breadth and depth of knowledge and also the way she entwines this around the poems of others.
I took it on my recent holiday to China. Perhaps an incongruous choice, but somehow its expansion for me was in a different sphere from the expansion experienced in this immense country, through which I was travelling, and served to ground me in a different and complimentary way.
The format of the book makes it an confortable companion, yet its content challenges and stirs and teaches.
Because there is so much to learn and understand (but not overwhelmingly), I have already re-read parts, and will do so for some time.
As someone who grew up in Ireland I was struck by the contribution of Irish poets to recent and contemporary poetry. I knew something of this, but not much. This and the wonderful, erudite analysis of words and rhythms involved in the poems chosen, and the subtety conveyed, really engaged me.
It has made me more interested in and eager to understand even more about the development and importance of poetry.
I have already recommended it to my spouse, and two days ago to my ex-English teacher, now in her eighties, living in Belfast. I.m looking forward and have also bought "The poem and the Journey". I will be taking it along to our small reading group next week.
Maybe I'll get the chance to do a workshop with the author some day!
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on 19 July 2008
I must confess that I'm a little baffled by all the praise that has been heaped on this book. I have found it deeply annoying - in fact it's one of the most irritating books I have encountered for quite some time.

The ineptly written introduction falls among several stools. As an explanation of the techniques employed in poetry, it cuts too many corners and for a beginner contains too many unexplained specialist terms. As a potted history of poetry it omits many key developments, and as an introduction to contemporary verse, it misleadingly and infuriatingly equates progress in poetry with anti-Thatcherite and feminist thinking.

Some of the 52 poems are indisputably fine pieces, and it's good to see excellent examples of the work of U.A. Fanthorpe, Elaine Feinstein, Liz Lochhead, and Fleur Adcock. Seamus Heaney's well-known poem The Skunk is here, as is Thom Gunn's Still Life. But really good poems such as these speak for themselves, and don't require the hugely laborious dissection job that seems to be Ruth Padel's preferred line of approach. Very many of the poems in the collection are relatively unknown over-intricate pieces that would have been best left in obscurity. Indeed one is tempted to conclude that if a poem needs taking apart word by word and sound by sound before it makes sense, it shouldn't really have been written in the first place.

Each of the 52 poems is immediately followed by Ruth Padel's commentary-cum- analysis, and as one reads each poem, one is uncomfortably conscious of the earnest teacher impatiently lurking in the wings, piece of chalk in hand. The analyses, frequently impaired by rather sloppy English, are not always very convincing and one often winces as Padel forces the poem into her own preconception of the poet's intention. The essentially didactic nature of the exercise is given emphasis by many underlinings, by the use of CAPITAL LETTERS (wake up at the back, there!) and by an air of confident certainty that allows for no ambiguity in interpretation.

Sometimes, the would-be exegesis succeeds not in providing enlightenment but in making matters very much worse, with entertaining results. See, for example, Padel's commentary on Gillian Allnutt's poem Barclays Bank and Lake Baikal, which manages to render an already difficult piece completely and utterly incomprehensible. Indeed this commentary, along with several others, must surely be a prime contender for inclusion in Private Eye's Pseud's Corner. Try reading it aloud, and try to keep a straight face while doing so, and you will see what I mean.

If you encounter a contemporary poem that you can't for the life of you understand, the likelihood is that it's the poet's fault, and not yours. Good poets write work that needs no detailed analysis, but asks only for the employment of intelligence and concentration. In that sense, Padel's primer is of rather limited value. Even so, this book has its value. It's certainly a source of innocent amusement, if nothing else.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2013
Ruth Padel is a poet in her own right and that is one of the main reasons why I asked my husband to buy this book for me. Her choice of poetry is interesting in itself, ranging from Carol Ann Dufy to Derek Walcott and Sharon Olds. The book starts with a section on poetry today, particularly in response to a question 'I want to know about modern poetry, what are the rules?' There are 52 poems altogether so it is perfectly possible to concentrate on one poem a week throughout the year. I was a little greedy and read several poems and Padel's comments. I am finding the book extremely interesting and helpful and would encourage anyone interested in current day poetry to buy it - although I have to add it seems a little like going back to school!
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on 18 July 2009
This book will be valuable for my U3A Poetry Reading group.
Few of us have any literary expertise or knowledge about how to appreciate a poem - we read aloud and enjoy poems which interest us: humour,emotional depth, beauty, quirkiness - but are not really able to critique usefully so the possibility of progress is limited.
Ruth Padel's book gives me the opportunity to introduce and read out a piece and then go over Ruth's critique and hand out copies for members to think about at home.
My reading of 52 Ways has greatly enhanced my understanding.
I did get borrow the book from the library beforehand so knew what I was getting.
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on 4 November 2010
If you are interested in peotry and either already take an active interest and maybe would like to discover some new names and insights into the topic then this book would most definetly be an enjoyable read. If you are trying to become more into poetry but find it quite daunting at first this book is the one for you - the disussion in the book is both interesting and insightful and the poems selected are pieces you could easily fall in love with and with each one Padel gives a full interpretation of the poem. Most importantly the book is not over complicated in it's language making it flow and be a fun book to relax with and enables's you to enjoy learning something new. I would highly recommend :)
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on 30 September 2014
This is an amazing book. You'll never look at poetry the same way again.
As a student, it's invaluable in showing me how to look at forms and ways with words, but it is clear and accessible to anyone interested in poetry.
Even if you find you don't really like a particular poem, you'll be amazed at how much is going on in the background of that piece of writing, and you might even change your mind about it afterwards.
A really good read, just not all in one go or you'll be overwhelmed!
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on 17 April 2012
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in writing technically perfect poetry. It helps to produce a commentary for those doing writing poetry courses. It helps to understand what the author is saying and why, some background to the poet.
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