Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
on 14 February 2009
First, the good news! - This book is an absolute must-have. It's well-written, clear, entertaining, educated, and manages to avoid being patronising while still managing to be both satisfyingly clever and thankfully simple.
Anybody wanting to own a concise volume of poetic forms and techniques would do well to invest in this book. It covers the basics of some of the more interesting poetic forms and does it in a way that's easy to understand. Example (from page 5):-
THE VILLANELLE AT A GLANCE:
1) It is a poem of nineteen lines.
2) It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines.
3) The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.
4) ...etc etc
It then goes on to give the history of the form, its place in the modern context, and finally a close-up of one of the leading exponents. In between all this brilliantness it regales the reader with cracking examples of some of the classics of the genre (staying with the Villanelle, it gives us Downson's "Villanelle of His Lady's Treasures", Dylan Thomas's breathtaking "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", and Wendy Cope's "Reading Scheme", among others). An absolute treasure-trove!
The forms it covers are:
The heroic couplet; and
It also spends time on the elegy, the pastoral and the ode. During all this the authors still manage to find the time somehow to open the readers' eyes and introduce me, at least, to some true literary gems I'd never seen, such as Anthony Hecht's "The Book of Yolek", Miller Williams' "The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina" and (I'm almost ashamed I didn't know these) Edna St. Vincent Millay's "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why".
As a surprisingly powerful extra, the authors add their own personal stories to their journeys in poetry to bring these possibly abstract structures to life.
But there is some (slightly) bad news. After the first few chapters, the authors either lose the motivation or the scope to closely analyse the poetic forms: we're treated to logical breakdowns of the villanelle, the sestina and the sonnet, for instance, but rather less in the way of the same by the time we get to the stanza. This may be because the stanza is not so rigorously constructed as the villanelle, but this in itself brings me to the next 'criticism'...
Thorough and far-reaching as this book is, it's by no means exhaustive, which makes the difficulties of rigorously analysing a stanza to the same degree as the villanelle all the more glaring. Why not, after all, stick with those forms that can be so analysed, such as the haiku, the acrostic or the dansa?
But this isn't so much the book's problem, more perhaps its genius - it simply leaves me wanting more, and frustrated that the chapters don't go on forever. Perhaps there will some day be a Part Two?...
This is a wonderful book. Learned, entertaining, and packed with both insight and argument, all crammed in between some of the greatest poems of the English language. To be thoroughly recommended!