The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem

The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem

The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem

The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem

Synopsis

In The Art of Poetry, Shira Wolosky provides a dazzling introduction to an art whose emphasis on verbal music, wordplay, and dodging the merely literal makes it at once the most beguiling and most challenging of literary forms. A uniquely comprehensive, step-by-step introduction to poetic form, The Art of Poetry moves progressively from smaller units such as the word, line, and image, to larger features such as verse forms and voice. In fourteen engaging, beautifully written chapters, Wolosky explores in depth how poetry does what it does while offering brilliant readings of some of the finest lyric poetry in the English and American traditions. Both readers new to poetry and poetry veterans will be moved and enlightened as Wolosky interprets work by William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and others. The book includes a superb two-chapter discussion of the sonnet's form and history, and represents the first poetry guide to introduce gender as a basic element of analysis. In contrast to many existing guides, which focus on selected formal aspects like metrics or present definitions and examples in a handbook format, The Art of Poetry covers the full landscape of poetry's subtle art while showing readers how to comprehend a poetic text in all its dimensions. Other special features include Wolosky's consideration of historical background for the developments she discusses, and the way her book is designed to acquaint or reacquaint readers with the core of the lyric tradition in English. Lively, accessible, and original, The Art of Poetry will be a rich source of inspiration for students, general readers, and those who teach poetry.

Excerpt

This is a study of poetry in the English tradition, and specifically of poems written in Modern (i.e., post-Medieval) English. In it, I consider great, short lyrics in English from the Renaissance into the twentieth century. The reader will thus be introduced in the course of this book to a core of significant lyric poems that makes up the English tradition. The book, however, is not organized according to chronology. Instead, its structure is topical and cumulative, intending to have the effect of building blocks or progressive overlays. I begin with the smallest integral unit of poetry, the individual word and its selection; then move to the poetic line; then to the fundamental images of simile and metaphor, as these in turn are used as basic structural elements that build larger poetic organizations. The fourth chapter considers the role of metaphor in building the sonnet. The fifth gives a condensed history of the sonnet, showing how verse forms are themselves dynamic historical accumulations as well as flexible, articulate organizations of meanings. I then progressively turn to central elements that organize both small and large units of poetic composition: the figure of personification; questions of poetic voice and of address to an audience; questions of gender. Toward the end, I treat such traditional topics of poetics as meter, sound, and rhyme, followed by a consideration of the role of rhetoric and further tropes in poetic construction, as well as what I call incomplete figures (such as symbols) and the situation of the reader.

Each chapter carries forward, and assumes, the elements of poetry introduced earlier. At times I also glance back at poems discussed in terms of a particular element to add a further layer of interpretation. My method has been to offer readings, in each chapter, of a group of poems, focusing discussion as much as possible through the specific topic, or interest, to which the chapter is devoted. The poems illuminate the topic, and the topic illuminates the poems. I do not offer lists of examples of specific figures or techniques, as is often done in poetry handbooks. Nor do I provide comprehensive lists of kinds of verse, or of technical terms. I have instead approached . . .

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