I have an interest in Romantic poetry but my knowledge and understanding of the `rules' of poetic composition date back to high school, so I was looking for a book pitched at undergraduate level to help me make sense of things. The fact that this book is published by Routledge was reassuring as they are one of the best known publishers for university undergraduate coursebooks.
This book is very easy to read and doesn't assume a great deal of knowledge of literature or poetry; in fact, it even uses popular music to illustrate a point - for example, it quotes the Nick Cave song `Into My Arms' to explain the concept of an author's `personal voice'. Jeffrey Wainwright starts the journey from the very beginning, with nursery rhymes and takes you through the entire spectrum of what we understand as `verse'.
I enjoyed reading this up until I was about three quarters into it; then I was struggling to follow. The problem is that that a instead of using one or two poems to explain a particular form (let's say, the sonnet), the author gives lots of examples, snippets from poems here and there; I found that too fragmentary and confusing. I would have liked to be taken through a whole reading of, say, a Blake poem - and to have analysed it thoroughly. By the time you get to the end of the book you feel as if you're in the middle of a poetic tornado, with names of poets being constantly thrown in and with one or two lines from poems to illustrate the point.
However there is one great feature in this book and that's the glossary at the end. I will definitely refer to it again and again, when I'm unsure about the difference between an enjambement or a caesura, or between iambic and trochaic. All in all, I'd say this is a useful book which will prove a useful reference tool for students of poetry and aspiring poets alike.
There are very good reasons why this is more or less a standard textbook on undergraduate poetry modules: Wainwright is both informed and, occasionally, inspired in deconstructing how poetry works, how it produces the effects (and affects) that it does. Underpinning the text is, then, a sense of poetry as an art, an artifice and a craft - something which goes to great technical lengths to appear (sometimes) as a spontaneous outburst of authentic emotion.
The possible drawback to using this in teaching is that students sometimes retreat to technical descriptions of texts rather than making the imaginative and emotional leaps to talk about what and how the poem means, rather than a dry description of its metre, form, rhyming scheme etc. So we do need to emphasise that books like this give us a vocabulary for analysing poetry but that turning that vocabulary into meaningful sentences is the next step we're really looking for.
All the same, this is detailed, informative and wide-ranging - and the glossary is something which I still find invaluable.