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How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath, among many others, Hirsch discovers the true meaning of their words and ideas and brings their sublime message home into our hearts. A masterful work by a master poet, this brilliant summation of poetry and human nature will speak to all readers who long to place poetry in their lives.


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How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath, among many others, Hirsch discovers the true meaning of their words and ideas and brings their sublime message home into our hearts. A masterful work by a master poet, this brilliant summation of poetry and human nature will speak to all readers who long to place poetry in their lives.

30 review for How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Harper Curtis

    Poetry needs readers. Readers need Edward Hirsch _How to Read a Poem_ is simply the best book to read to learn about poetry generally and to stoke your passion for it. It's an exuberant book which introduces readers to poetry joyfully. Too often readers learn the "rules of verse", for example, that a sonnet has fourteen lines and rhymes a certain way, but they're not inspired, they don't know why they should care and they don't understand why anyone would bother to write a sonnet. As a result, the Poetry needs readers. Readers need Edward Hirsch _How to Read a Poem_ is simply the best book to read to learn about poetry generally and to stoke your passion for it. It's an exuberant book which introduces readers to poetry joyfully. Too often readers learn the "rules of verse", for example, that a sonnet has fourteen lines and rhymes a certain way, but they're not inspired, they don't know why they should care and they don't understand why anyone would bother to write a sonnet. As a result, they may memorize those rules but never want to read a sonnet again. The inspiration they need is right here in _How to Read a Poem_. This is the only book you need, along with the Reading List offered at the back, which will send you off to the library to explore for a lifetime.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Garnette

    Edward Hirsch once spoke at a Poetry Therapy conference in Washington DC - compassionately, brilliantly - and I made up my mind to add him to my favorite contemporary poets. This book confirms my in-person listening. I must have fifty bookmarks in my library copy here, there's wisdom on every page. First example, in writing about Walt Whitman's Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking "It is one sentence and twenty-two lines long. It carries me away," wrote Hirsch in chapter called 'Message in a Bott Edward Hirsch once spoke at a Poetry Therapy conference in Washington DC - compassionately, brilliantly - and I made up my mind to add him to my favorite contemporary poets. This book confirms my in-person listening. I must have fifty bookmarks in my library copy here, there's wisdom on every page. First example, in writing about Walt Whitman's Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking "It is one sentence and twenty-two lines long. It carries me away," wrote Hirsch in chapter called 'Message in a Bottle.' Then he continues "The incantatory power of this (poem) is tremendous as the repetitions loosen the intellect for reverie." All this about an ocean wave. I am carried away with the beauty of both Whitman and Hirsch - as they both intended and that's just on page 22. It's about time in my life to be reminded of all the poetry writing and appreciation classes I once took. Decades later, I know the players, always glad to savor them again at the Dodge Festival (no longer happening) or on Bill Moyer's Journal. Yet reading Hirsch's book is a complete course in itself. No lectures but digging deeply into the works and results of a poem. This book could be a delight to anyone who can still read American English. As opposed to alphabet words, which I admit serve their purposes on the go. Here are some more quotes to treasure: "'Dramatize, dramatize!' Frost directed the poet, and Akhmatova takes the clue here in spades." p.126 Speaking of Auden and James Merrill's epic trilogy: "To bring forth figures to speak from the otherworld is inevitably to enter into the range and territory of the Divine Comedy" p.141 This book is a solace to writer's struggling to reinvent writing. Hirsch seems to say, you are not alone, your ancestors in literature are benedictions to you, should you turn and look their way. Yeah, I loved this book. And now have to actually return it to the library after four renewals so will perforce, buy my own. For the Glossary, subtitled "The Pleasure of the Text" which is a quick course in literary machinations. For the world's poets, in "A Reading List and the Pleasure of the Catalog." For the Index which is a precis of the book plus page numbers. I am going to stop this praise and order two copies now.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Philip Gordon

    I found this book, and Hirsch as a result, to be completely insufferable. I don't know how it's possible to make someone with an unparalleled affection for poetry resent their chosen subject, but Hirsch came damn close to doing it. Almost every chapter (and every paragraph therein) in this book is sickening, overly-academic, gushing blathering over-inflated pompous dissection. Even in the instances in which Hirsch selected poems I already knew and appreciated, his slathering stripping down of ev I found this book, and Hirsch as a result, to be completely insufferable. I don't know how it's possible to make someone with an unparalleled affection for poetry resent their chosen subject, but Hirsch came damn close to doing it. Almost every chapter (and every paragraph therein) in this book is sickening, overly-academic, gushing blathering over-inflated pompous dissection. Even in the instances in which Hirsch selected poems I already knew and appreciated, his slathering stripping down of everything in the material, and going on at SUCH lengths about how AMAZING the poems were, left a sour taste in my mouth and had me doubting my own preferences in poetry if they aligned with his. I am no stranger to close reading. I love being analytical and intellectual--but Hirsch, in my opinion, takes these ideas too far. It should not take twenty pages to tell us why any one poem is worth reading; and, what's more, I don't feel like this book taught me one iota of what it mentions in the title. Am I to believe that in leading by example, parading about his overblown, affected enthusiasm for the moments in which poetry has touched him, Hirsch is teaching me how to do anything? There's nothing touched on in terms of the actual act of reading, the mechanics, the processes, the engagement with the text beyond Hirsch's stilted explicating of it. In short, I feel I would have learned more simply googling the subject in question, and being told to 'look for sound devices' in a given stanza, rather than read Hirsch going on for multiple paragraphs about the sublime power of a single punctuation mark in one poem (yes, that really happens). In short: this book felt to me like the antithesis of poety. Kudos to people who have enjoyed it, and further poetry subsequently as a result, but I found it sickening, and am left worrying about whether young minds seeking an introduction to an already challenging subject might have a potential lifelong interest quashed forever in the same way I almost did.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I read this one trying to undo the damage of my high school english teacher. Mission partly accomplished. The first 7 chapters were helpful, the last five were a little tedious. I love that people get excited about poetry, but sometimes that excitement turns into a club, where only those in the know can understand.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    I loved this book. It was very rewarding to read. I love books about other people's process, and Hirsch delves into those processes with great care and delicacy. He reads poetry from a great depth and with a huge heart, plants that depth and heart on the page, and makes it part of your own world. Made me fall in love with all kinds of things I was not even aware of. I'm likely to read this one again.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Elmer

    I really enjoyed this book. I love Ed Hirsch's enthusiasm and his love and knowledge of his subject. I appreciated his insights into familiar poems and his introduction to poets I hadn't read before. This book also has the benefit of an excellent glossary. I realize that these days anyone can look words up on Wikipedia or other on-line places, but it is great to have this reference all in one place. Not to mention, any book with a good recommended reading list, gets extra credit from me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maiko-chan

    fav quotes:We discover in poetry that we are participating in something which cannot be explained or apprehended by reason or understanding alone. We participate in the imaginary. We create a space for fantasy, we enter our dream life, dream time. We deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness. Poetry is an animating force. It comes alive when the poet magically inscribes a wave and thereby creates a new thing, when the text immobilizes it, when the individual poem bec fav quotes:We discover in poetry that we are participating in something which cannot be explained or apprehended by reason or understanding alone. We participate in the imaginary. We create a space for fantasy, we enter our dream life, dream time. We deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness. Poetry is an animating force. It comes alive when the poet magically inscribes a wave and thereby creates a new thing, when the text immobilizes it, when the individual poem becomes part of the great sea, when the bottle washes ashore and the wanderer happens upon it, when the reader experiences its inexhaustible depths... Poetry alerts us to what is deepest in ourselves - it arouses a spiritual desire which it also gratifies. It attains what it avows. But it can only do so with the reader's imaginative collaboration and even complicity. The writer creates through words a felt world which only the reader can vivify and internalize. Writing is embodiment. Reading is contact. We live in a superficial, media-driven culture that often seems uncomfortable with ture depths of feeling. Indeed, it seems as if our culture has become increasingly intolerant of that acute sorrow, that intense mental anguish and deep remorse which may be defined as grief. We want to medicate such sorrow away. We want to divide it into recognizable stages so that grief can be labeled, tamed, and put behind us. But poets have always celebrated grief as one of the deepest human emotions. To grieve is to lament, to let sorrow inhabit one's very being. Love crops up so often in lyric poetry because it is the soul's primary way of going out to another, of freeing itself through another from the pressures and distractions of ordinary existence. It is the soul's preferred mode of attainment. Notes: -the book technically ends at 63%, with the following glossary lasting to 85%.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    This book takes time and concentration - best absorbed in small doses but what a read. The title says it all. One does fall in love with poetry. Our book group is discussing it this weekend, each bringing our list of the best 10 - how impossible is that? When one chooses, it is interesting to find that so many of them are ones you have studied in the past or were part of your childhood.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    In reading “How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry”, my soul went to school for several months and was deeply nourished. About six years ago, I was introduced to the poems of Edward Hirsch and was enchanted by them. This time round, I experienced Hirsch as a poetry teacher par excellence. I am awed both by the brilliance of his poetic gift and the lyrical lucidity of his literary analyses. Hirsch wrote lyrically and passionately about poetry, which made reading this volume intensely In reading “How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry”, my soul went to school for several months and was deeply nourished. About six years ago, I was introduced to the poems of Edward Hirsch and was enchanted by them. This time round, I experienced Hirsch as a poetry teacher par excellence. I am awed both by the brilliance of his poetic gift and the lyrical lucidity of his literary analyses. Hirsch wrote lyrically and passionately about poetry, which made reading this volume intensely and intimately pleasurable. Savoring a lyrical treatise of a lyric poem was like adding honey to molasses. This heightened delight repeats itself many times over for several pieces of literary commentary. I especially appreciate Hirsch’s perspective of a poem as a literary archway that connects the poet and the reader. One of my favorite metaphors is the poem as a message in a bottle sent out in the hope it could wash up on land and find its way to its reader. Hirsch said it well: "Reading poetry is a way of connecting - through the medium of language - more deeply with yourself even as you connect more deeply with another." Reading poetry is being immersed, as Hirsch put it, in "soul culture" - a communion with other human beings. There were many moments in his literary expositions that were very touching. One was Hirsch as a child stumbling on Emily Bronte's “Night”, a poem that expressed the grief he felt when his grandfather was dying. He reflected, "I will always be grateful to her for delivering up the wild moors inside me, for giving me my childhood grieving through her bardic craft." The other was how reading elegies allowed him to come to terms with the loss of a good male friend. Poetry opened up a space in him that made it possible to name what he felt as an "outsize emotion". There were also deliriously beautiful analyses of love poetry with abundant illustrations of how love poetry rejoiced in extravagant analogies (e.g., the Song of Songs). In contrast, an analysis that was unbearably incisive was his chilling commentary on “Edge”, a poem written by Sylvia Plath a week before her suicide. One great benefit I derived was being introduced to many poets I have never previously read. A few have become new favorites: Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, and Anna Akhmatova. There is a wonderful glossary behind this volume where one can quickly look up a literary term. There is also a comprehensive list of all the great poems that one would be poorer for not reading. What a priceless literary treasure this volume is! In sum, Edward Hirsch has awakened me to “the Shock, the Swoon, the Bliss” of writing and reading poetry. Many of the poets referenced in this volume have long departed, but they have left behind them a lyrical gift that is deep and indestructible. And for this, I am immensely grateful.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adriel

    Recently I heard an NPR report that poetry had been given a new life and new popularity with the internet, with YouTube, public readings, poetry slams, and even apps (yes, I love the app from Poetry magazine). Years ago, as an English major in college, I read numerous books and reviews that discussed poetry almost as if it were some sort of rare earth or a tarnished but cherished antique, appreciated only by the few. In How to Read a Poem, Edward Hirsch celebrates the lyric poem as if it were a Recently I heard an NPR report that poetry had been given a new life and new popularity with the internet, with YouTube, public readings, poetry slams, and even apps (yes, I love the app from Poetry magazine). Years ago, as an English major in college, I read numerous books and reviews that discussed poetry almost as if it were some sort of rare earth or a tarnished but cherished antique, appreciated only by the few. In How to Read a Poem, Edward Hirsch celebrates the lyric poem as if it were a compelling song, an ode to life itself, a toast to the ecstasy and sorrow of the world. The lyric poem is the poem of the song, with rhythm kept on the lyre, and words wrung from the heart. It is of course the same word, lyric, we use for the words of a song and with the same purpose: to heighten and deepen the emotional experience. No critic I read in those years of college expressed a greater emotional attachment to poetry than Hirsch, who relates not just the construction of the poem itself, but of his powerful reaction to it. Hirsch says that at the most critical level, the lyric poem depends on metaphor. It is as if we really cannot explain a deep human emotion with ordinary words but must turn to symbolic language. A poem is a song, a poem is ship on the ocean of time, the first cry of a newborn child, the smile of a grandmother, the long shadow of an Autumn evening, a minuet and a dirge. This book is particularly useful in its examination of the poetry of Europe and the South American poets. The author introduced me to the "Postcards" of Miklos Radnoti, the final one, so tragic, written as he takes his last painful steps toward execution and found in his cloak next to his heart. His love of Pablo Neruda and his affecting response to this poetic master is fresh and delightful. The erudite Robert Graves claimed that the metrics of Anglo-Saxon poetry (the topic of my Master's thesis) was sung with the rhythms of the oar in water. He helped me understand Wallace Stevens, always somewhat recondite yet captivating. Hirsch makes obvious his great love for Walt Whitman who loved America so well and the American people that he left us with a body of work that speaks to the unique soul of the people of the New World. The love for poetry of Hirsch is inspiring and he subtitles How the Read a Poem as …And Fall in Love with Poetry. Certainly Edward Hirsch, and I suppose his readers, are deep in that love.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ci

    I have little interest in poems that are quoted in ceremonies or grave occasions, nor much patience for slick and modern pieces inserted in high-brow magazines. What does it mean, really? I often wondered with some distrust. Learning to read poems requires good guides. In the past, I had a simple, jolly book by Stephen Fry, and now I have someone with knowledge and warmth to impart on a novice reader. This book by Edward Hirsch has taught me much about reading poems. Hirsch uses “a message in a I have little interest in poems that are quoted in ceremonies or grave occasions, nor much patience for slick and modern pieces inserted in high-brow magazines. What does it mean, really? I often wondered with some distrust. Learning to read poems requires good guides. In the past, I had a simple, jolly book by Stephen Fry, and now I have someone with knowledge and warmth to impart on a novice reader. This book by Edward Hirsch has taught me much about reading poems. Hirsch uses “a message in a bottle” as the recurring metaphor for a poem. There are several things remarkable about it: one, “a message”, as in the title “how to read a poem” instead of the more general “how to read poetry”; second, the metaphor of something delivered and found by happenstance, the precious and fragile acts of reaching and receiving; lastly, the wind-tossed and sand-bruised message-in-bottle instead of the coy prettiness. I consider this an essential guidebook for reading poetry. Hirsch showed us a wide range of poetic themes across time and language, along with his own intellectual and emotional responses. Having no excessive scholarly jargon to mar the attention of an amateur reader, this book is plain-speaking and warm-hearted. So what does poetry do differently from other forms of textual contents? Or put it different, why do we bother to read poetry instead of essays and fictions? I think one major distinction is that poetry uses a highly condensed, distilled form of language. There are no filler words in good poetry (nor should be in good fiction!). But its succinctness is not the telegraphed terseness proffering data and information. If I am to borrow Platonic three-parted soul metaphor, then poems may be the soliloquies, the conversations, the whispers, the screams and howls of different parts of our souls. Yet the creation of poems is a deliberate, highly polished craft. The message-in-the-bottle means that such utterances are so close to the lives of our souls, that poets have taken the pain to find ways to transmit them to others. In reading, us readers may find a deep empathic comforts in a knowing, however dark and somber such as this one: A Clear Midnight Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892 This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless, Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done, Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best, Night, sleep, death and the stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    How to Read a Poem is a well-done, personal guide to finding meaning and enjoyment in poetry, illustrated with Hirsch’s own responses through time to poems that inspired him, helped him, informed him, moved him, taught him (and that he then taught). It is only as technical as it needs to be to unlock meaning so if you are looking for a book that helps you understand the world of poetic form or how to use one technique or another effectively that is not this book’s purpose. What it hopes to do an How to Read a Poem is a well-done, personal guide to finding meaning and enjoyment in poetry, illustrated with Hirsch’s own responses through time to poems that inspired him, helped him, informed him, moved him, taught him (and that he then taught). It is only as technical as it needs to be to unlock meaning so if you are looking for a book that helps you understand the world of poetic form or how to use one technique or another effectively that is not this book’s purpose. What it hopes to do and does well is help the general reader kindle or re-kindle a love of the power of poetry and motivate us to include poetry into our reading and our daily lives. That is not a small task and Hirsch accomplishes it with grace and intelligence and with a fair degree of enthusiasm sharing. Even poets whom I’d determined just weren’t for me, say Wallace Stevens, I’ve had Mr. Hirsch open the door to. “Poetry,” Hirsch writes early, “is a form of necessary speech.” It’s not a technical definition but one of advocacy and it makes a compelling argument. With each chapter poems are shared and unpacked to get effective. Hirsch is so good a guide to where you are at one moment you hate to move on—just as Louis Rus, a professor of English I had long ago, did, getting me excited about Crane, Dickinson, Whitman, and James, writers I had little interest in prior to his course. The world of poetry Hirsch shares with readers spans the globe and its diverse cultures, underscoring that what is universal in poetry (urgent speech) is humanity, and what is unique is the perspectives different cultures and individual brings to it. Every example makes these poems of praise, of grief, of mystery speak to us as whispers, hopes, and shouts, across time and place, mood and thought.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    This is a beautiful book, written in a lush and loving style, which took me months to read. Edward Hirsch writes every paragraph with the same care that his poets use to write their memorable lines, and it makes for lovely but slow reading. By the end of the book, however, I was less interested in reading what the author had to say, and more interested in getting to the poems themselves and reading them with care. I think that is what Hirsch wanted. As a result I now have several volumes of poet This is a beautiful book, written in a lush and loving style, which took me months to read. Edward Hirsch writes every paragraph with the same care that his poets use to write their memorable lines, and it makes for lovely but slow reading. By the end of the book, however, I was less interested in reading what the author had to say, and more interested in getting to the poems themselves and reading them with care. I think that is what Hirsch wanted. As a result I now have several volumes of poetry by the bedside - love poems, sonnets and "favorites" - for relaxed reading. Thank you Edward Hirsch for reintroducing me to the wonder of good poetry.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

    I already read and loved poetry before reading this book, but my love has deepened. Hirsch advocates reading poetry for "soul culture." I like this idea. I also like how he views even the saddest poetry as inherently hopeful. His reflections on Walt Whitman's "A Clear Midnight" and Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting Room" are brilliant. Hirsch also introduced me to some poets, including Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Akhmatova, that I'm looking forward to reading more of.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Imran Rasid

    The book did a very good job to present the idea of reading poetries as joyful, exciting and meditative activity. The author is clearly passionate about the subject and has excellent grasp over large canons of great western literatures in history. Every lines are written with wits, and the reader will never get bored to go through the ideas presented till the very last page. Really recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    The prose was rather heavy-handed at times, but Hirsch includes some great poems that I probably wouldn't have otherwise run across. I tended to have a better time with the pages he spent talking about actual poems than the ones where he waxed...poetic...about the experience of poetry itself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    NTS: ordered in pb

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This book may be worth reading just for how much Hirsch reveres poetry, especially as he describes it in the beginning of the book. Throughout this hymnal, Hirsch walks us through all of the wonderful things to notice and love about poetry, explaining through close readings aspects like rhyme, rhythm, meter, metaphors ... But it's not your typical poetry textbook. Whereas textbooks are often dry, Hirsch really loves what he's talking about, and rather than just saying "iambic pentameter, ABAB sch This book may be worth reading just for how much Hirsch reveres poetry, especially as he describes it in the beginning of the book. Throughout this hymnal, Hirsch walks us through all of the wonderful things to notice and love about poetry, explaining through close readings aspects like rhyme, rhythm, meter, metaphors ... But it's not your typical poetry textbook. Whereas textbooks are often dry, Hirsch really loves what he's talking about, and rather than just saying "iambic pentameter, ABAB scheme, blah blah blah," he GUSHES about how a poet anthropomorphizes wind or death or time, or how a poet's rhythm during a poem about walking makes *us* feel like *we're* walking... If you don't read this and gain at least *some* appreciation for a poet's craft, you aren't reading this with enough of an open mind. (I will admit, though, that it gets long, hence getting knocked down a star. But Hirsch gives so many examples that if you're starting to feel like it's dragging on, just skip to the next section.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    metaphor

    The poet is incited to create a work that can outdistance time and surmount distance, that can bridge the gulf — the chasm — between people otherwise unknown to each other. It can survive changes of language and in language, changes in social norms and customs, the ravages of history. [...] The reader completes the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own past experiences. You are reading poetry — I mean really reading it—when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel i The poet is incited to create a work that can outdistance time and surmount distance, that can bridge the gulf — the chasm — between people otherwise unknown to each other. It can survive changes of language and in language, changes in social norms and customs, the ravages of history. [...] The reader completes the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own past experiences. You are reading poetry — I mean really reading it—when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel its seismic vibrations, the sounding of your depths. * We discover in poetry that we are participating in something which cannot be explained or apprehended by reason or understanding alone. We participate in the imaginary. We create a space for fantasy, we enter our dream life, dream time. We deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness. Poetry is an animating force. It comes alive when the poet magically inscribes a wave and thereby creates a new thing, when the text immobilizes it, when the individual poem becomes part of the great sea, when the bottle washes ashore and the wanderer happens upon it, when the reader experiences its inexhaustible depths . . .

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shannan

    A snobby approach to poetry. My friend Perry Kassing said, "I'll tell you how to read a poem" and he sent me this. I thought it was much better than this stuffy long book. How to Read a Poem; A Recipe by Perry Kassing September 8, 2010 First, take the lid off your mind. Open it completely and air it out. Now, take the poem in whatever form And gently pour it into the open space. (Use a tool to scrape out the container So as not to leave anything behind.) While stirring gently, add these items: A cup or so A snobby approach to poetry. My friend Perry Kassing said, "I'll tell you how to read a poem" and he sent me this. I thought it was much better than this stuffy long book. How to Read a Poem; A Recipe by Perry Kassing September 8, 2010 First, take the lid off your mind. Open it completely and air it out. Now, take the poem in whatever form And gently pour it into the open space. (Use a tool to scrape out the container So as not to leave anything behind.) While stirring gently, add these items: A cup or so of insight, One pinch of ethos, Another of pathos, A can of experience, And a dash of hope and wonder. Stir until very smooth leaving no lumps. Let the mixture settle for a while, Speaking of it now and then with others. You should be ready to taste it now. (This doesn’t always turn out just right), But when it does. . . Delicious!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    If one were to judge solely by the mundane title, one might expect this to be a different book—i.e. more along the lines of “Poetry for Dummies.” That’s not what Hirsch is offering with his book. There’s plenty of opportunity to learn to differentiate pentameter from tetrameter or a lyric from an epic poem, but the book isn’t arranged according to such fundamentals. It might even take one a few pages (or chapters) to realize there is an organizing structure. But you’ll get there because of the a If one were to judge solely by the mundane title, one might expect this to be a different book—i.e. more along the lines of “Poetry for Dummies.” That’s not what Hirsch is offering with his book. There’s plenty of opportunity to learn to differentiate pentameter from tetrameter or a lyric from an epic poem, but the book isn’t arranged according to such fundamentals. It might even take one a few pages (or chapters) to realize there is an organizing structure. But you’ll get there because of the author’s contagious passion for poetry and his presentation, and an analysis, of many beautiful poems by masters such as Keats, Yeats, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Neruda, and many others--more ancient or modern and equally or less well known. In the end, you’ll think of poetry in a new light. The book is arranged into 12 chapters, each of which looks at poetry from a different dimension. Chapter 1 considers the poem in two ways. First, it emphasizes the importance of the reader, i.e. the poem is presented as an interaction rather than an act of transmission. Second, the author considers how various poets have defined poetry, and what we can learn from said definitions—besides that poetry is defiant in the face of definition. (Like a wet bar of soap, the tighter one tries to grasp it, the less one succeeds.) Chapter 2 continues to investigate the nature of a poem using the framework of the word’s etymology, coming from the ancient Greek word meaning “to make”--thus the chapter title: “A Made Thing.” Chapter three delves into the making of connections (or lack thereof) as a theme in poetry. As with most of the book’s chapters, it’s built around a small number of poems that elucidate the author’s point. In this case, poems by Keats, James Wright, and Baudelaire are used to describe cases in which a human connection is sought, in which it momentarily exists, and in which it is shunned. As is true of other chapters, this doesn’t mean that these three poems are all that are mentioned. It’s just that they are given in-depth analysis, while other poems and fragments are referenced to help illustrate points. Chapter four is entitled “Three Initiations” and it introduces three types of poetry through quintessential examples. The three types of poems are: 1.) poetry of trance; 2.) poetry of praise; and 3.) poetry of grief. The latter two may be more easily grasped than the first, which are poems that convey an altered state of consciousness. Chapter five examines the subject of authenticity and vividness in poetry and how poets convey such genuineness—even by way of surrealism. The classic example is Shakespeare’s sonnets that mock Petrarchan sonnets in suggesting a less hyperbolic form of love letter (i.e. Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”) Chapter six is entitled, “5 Acts,” and, as such, it covers five different subjects through the motif of a play. This first act is about opening poems or introductory soliloquy. The second act is about drama and its role in verse, and is heavily influence by a quote from Robert Frost (i.e. “Everything written is as good as it is dramatic.”) Act three is about what might be called “character” in the scheme of a play, but is really about the personhood of a poem. Act four delves into the topic of dialogue as a poetic tool. The last act is about concluding poems / death poems—as exemplified by Bashō’s deathbed poem and the postcard poems written by Miklós Radnóti on a Holocaust death march. Chapter seven considers desolation as a theme in poetry. The next chapter places poetry in the context of history, using Polish poetry of war and Holocaust to convey the emotion and numbness of tragic events. Chapter nine proposes a nexus between art and justice, and looks at how this is displayed through jeremiads and political poems. The two core examples of this chapter are a work song by Sterling Brown and an ode by Pablo Neruda. Along with chapter four’s “poetry of trance,” I found chapter ten’s discussion of poems that transport the reader to a moment of epiphany--or ecstatic / transcendental experience--to be particularly fascinating. There are a couple modern pieces that Hirsch presents herein, but some work by Dickinson introduces the topic and truly shows how it’s done. Chapter eleven presents the soul as a poetic theme. The poem gives substance to that which is inherently insubstantial, but which is somehow essential and beyond refute. Walt Whitman’s references to the soul offer particularly vivid insight on this question. The last chapter is a brief echo of the first, reiterating the role of the reader and the need for poetic definitions for poetry because any definition that tries to capture the medium in precise prose loses it as it’s reinvented countless times over. If one prefers a simple and direct definition of poetry—e.g. writing that displays meter and rhyme--this is may not be your go-to book. (You might prefer a book such as Fry’s “The Ode Less Traveled” that is more dogmatic about prosody as the sine qua non of poetry.) As for ancillary material, there is a huge glossary. It’s huge not by virtue of containing a vast number of words, but rather because it goes into considerable detail on most of the entries. There is also an extensive and thoroughly organized “recommended reading” section. The book also offers discussion questions for those who want to review or used the book for a book club or whatnot. There’s not much by way of graphics, except for one or two displays of visually-oriented forms of poetry, but there’s no need of more than that. I found this book to be insightful and I welcomed the unique way in which the author divvied up and evaluated the topic of poetry. If you enjoy poetry, or if you write it, there is much to be garnered from reading this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    I mostly used this book to discover new poems to love. Among them: Yehuda Amichai's "A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention," Delmore Schwartz's "Baudelaire," the last lines of Robert Frost's "Desert Places," Nazim Hikmet's "Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison" and "On Living," Tadeusz Rozewicz's "In the Midst of Life," Wislawa Szymborska's "Children of Our Age" and "Reality Demands," WCW's "Aspohdel, That Greeny Flower," and reawakened my interest in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    The first few chapters and the last few completely knocked my socks off. Some of the best discussions of poetry I've read in a long time. The middle chapters got very muddled and could have been pared down significantly without losing their meaning. But otherwise, highly recommended to anyone who loves this art/literature media (or those who don't, but want to learn more).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I was introduced to a lot of poems and poets I didn't know. Hirsch is not only a poet, he's a huge FAN of poetry, the best thing that happened to poetry since Mr. Keating in Dead Poet's Society. Oh, and I met him two weeks ago at Hotchkiss. Very cool.

  25. 4 out of 5

    RUSA CODES

    This was one of the 2000 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to http://ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/aw...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Despite the 'How to...' title, this is no dummies guide; it is an education. Very enjoyable so far, but it may take me weeks or months to finish it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Denae

    Exactly what the title says. Edward Hirsch does a great job of talking about a bunch of beautiful poetry and making it seem even more so than before.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Somebody tell Mr. Hirsch that not all prose needs to read like poetry. Some insightful thinking here, and some incredible examples I would never have found on my own.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Koslowski

    I read this book partially to consider if its contents could help me approach the teaching of poetry to my ninth-graders better and partially to see if it could provide me with strategies for approaching hermetic modernist poets like Wallace Stevens. I had trouble getting through the first part of this book. His rhapsodic praise of poetry in the first few chapters was grating. I quite like poetry -- and even love a few poems -- but his insistence on the transcendent quality of poetry made me roll I read this book partially to consider if its contents could help me approach the teaching of poetry to my ninth-graders better and partially to see if it could provide me with strategies for approaching hermetic modernist poets like Wallace Stevens. I had trouble getting through the first part of this book. His rhapsodic praise of poetry in the first few chapters was grating. I quite like poetry -- and even love a few poems -- but his insistence on the transcendent quality of poetry made me roll my eyes. There were times during his praising of poetry that I had to put the book down because Hirsch's writing was just making me so tired. There were several times when I wondered if I should abandon the book. The parts of the book that worked the best were those passages where Hirsch was responding to a poem while also putting the poem in context of the poet's body of work and the world in general. The chapter I enjoyed most was "Poetry and History: Polish Poetry after the End of the World" (172-191). His description of how several major Polish poets -- Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz, and Wisława Szymborska -- reacted to the chaos of the World War II and the 20th century not like other Europeans by turning to interior, hermetic poetics of alienation but instead by turning to exterior, lucid poetics of witness. This chapter, more than others, inspired me to want to read more of these poets. I would not recommend the book as a whole though I would recommend some of the chapters. I particularly liked Chapter 6 "Five Acts" (116-155), Chapter 7 "Beyond Desolation" (156-171), and Chapter 8 "Poetry and History: Polish Poetry after the End of the World" (172-191).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Pfeifer

    I feel this book's title does not truly describe what it offers. It is a book of essays that takes as it's topic the subtle enchantment poetry produces; it is a book length paean to the art of poetry. It is not particularly effective as an introductory volume on poetry for the ignorant layman, as Hirsch's analysis is informed by a lifetime spent spent reading and writing poetry, and as a result can seem unapproachable at times. However, Hirsh's enthusiasm and love for poetry is infectious, and I I feel this book's title does not truly describe what it offers. It is a book of essays that takes as it's topic the subtle enchantment poetry produces; it is a book length paean to the art of poetry. It is not particularly effective as an introductory volume on poetry for the ignorant layman, as Hirsch's analysis is informed by a lifetime spent spent reading and writing poetry, and as a result can seem unapproachable at times. However, Hirsh's enthusiasm and love for poetry is infectious, and I came away from the book with a greater appreciation and respect for the art form. This book left me with a lot to learn about the form and history of poetry, which I had expected to learn more about during the course of this book, it successfully delves into the essence and the romance of poetry. This book left me with a desire to learn more, and to read more poetry. Although this book may not have been what I expected, it was highly successful in the end.

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