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4.2 out of 5 stars26
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 23 January 2004
A brilliant book! The 22 loosely connected essays, that form the chapters of this book, are enjoyable and easy to read, but instructive and illuminating at the same time. An accomplised poet, James Fenton clearly understands both the technicalities and the aesthetics of English poetry very well. And in this book I think he does a fine job of communicating both, with a light smattering of his, obviously extensive, erudition.

After reading this book I understand not simply what metre is, and what some of the metrical techniques are, but I also understand how to appreciate metre much better, and how metre contributes to the overall poetic achievement. And that is what I liked. But what is particularly impressive is that this knowledge and understanding is communicated by a series of short and simple essays, which are the book chapters. You can read and learn something worthwhile in ten minutes - or perhaps even less.

Too often in studies of literature a reader can feel oppressed by the erudition of the writer; but not here. James Fenton uses his knowledge of poetry well, it helps him to instruct, and it inspires our apprecation of the peotic concept and of the quoted poet. Perhaps the best example of this is his quote from Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. I had barely heard of Dryden, but after reading the chapter that quotes Absalom and Achitophel I am left thinking, "I want to read that poem, and more Dryden."

In short if you want to learn about English poetry and be better able to appreciate it, then read this book.
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on 17 August 2011
I arrived at this book by coincidence; after reading a series of books on grammar and the construction of prose combined with the bibliography from Hitch 22 I was inspired to learn more about Poetry, and James Fenton seemed best qualified to make that introduction.

Previously I had seen poetry as a fairly self-indulgent and pretentious pursuit, but during the course of this book I came to appreciate how technical constraints provide a framework for expressing ideas. The chapters are able to break down what poetry is, James Fenton defines the concepts and rules of the form in an interesting and none-patronising way. It also avoids the aspects that may deter many readers, namely: what the subjects of poetry should be (this is left entirely to the reader). The examples are chosen for their illustrative merit (e.g. demonstrating Iambic Pentameter) and do not try to to do the job of an anthology.

I enjoy instructional books that cover basic principals, leaving the reader to practice and study how to use them. An Introduction to English Poetry will likely be read and reread by those who wish to appreciate and/or write poetry.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 March 2006
Accessible, readable, useable, brilliant. The best book for the aspiring poet I have ever seen. The author is an academic but you don't need to be to get his points.
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on 10 July 2012
I would agree with all the positive views about this book. I read it virtually at a single sitting, and found it outstanding. Readable and informative, the author's common-sense about and love for the subject shine through on all levels.
However, my Kindle edition is not well formatted, nor free of 'typos', particularly with regard to the poems as they are printed on the page. When passages are about metrics and verse forms, it becomes almost impossible to disentangle them at times. It was clearly not edited, and given the price, I think we Kindle customers deserve better. So my three stars is for the Kindle edition, specifically.
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on 11 September 2013
While this is an excellent book on the mechanics of poetry: prosody, form and analysis, all sadly neglected in our 'what is this poem about,' lines of inquiry. However, this is not the book to give somebody to convince them to give poetry a try. Rather it will supplement the enjoyment of those who already read it. Some of the metrical examples will interest only those with a back ground in English Literature. In short, an excellent book with a misleading title.
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on 5 April 2013
Quick, sharp and easily readable, without slowing down for a readership. His enthusiasm for and explanation of metre, including blank verse and shorter lines, was particularly appreciated when reading it. I would highly recommend the book, which has certainly helped me understand and appreciate the efforts made by the great poets. It has left me wanting to read far more poetry than I already have, particularly the older, metrical and structured poems I am still rather unacquainted with.
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on 10 March 2016
Written in a clear, accessible style, and with moments of dry humour, Fenton’s short book is an introduction to the formal (structuring) elements of English poetry, such as metre, stanza forms and rhyme. Though he says next to nothing about the content of poetry (meaning), there are some interesting points about the relationship between poetry, music and song. A useful book as far as it goes, and one that I suspect will be of more use to writers than readers of poetry; however, it has helped me see things in poetry that I had previously missed.
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on 1 November 2012
The Kindle version is £1 more than the print one. However the poems are formatted so badly as to make the chapter on stanzas, in particular, almost useless.
The text itself is a great introduction to both the mechanics and aims of poetry. But James Fenton should have a word with whoever did the layout and ensure an updated version is available for download.
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on 18 May 2012
Poetry was the area of English literature I was least confident about teaching when asked to deliver a module three years ago. It took me time to build up resources and develop confidence. Now I thoroughly enjoy it, but still found James Fenton's introduction a joy to read and very informative.

I buy a lot of books. When I think my teaching is growing stale I buy books, but rarely find the time to read them properly. I opened this and read the introduction. Then I sat down and read it cover to cover. Lots of examples given. Fenton assumes no previous knowledge and delivers a master class that has all the hallmarks of someone who knows and enjoys their subject.

How I wish I had this to start with when I took on that module three years ago.
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on 9 December 2014
I have been dipping in and out of Out of Danger for years now, after seeing Fenton read at Aldeburgh. It is good to have this collection of essays that is reassuringly brusque and business-like. He goes to his job and gets you along on his side. I love the talk of metrics that slides so beautifully from the technical to the felt.
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