Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beautiful & Pointless (A Guide to Modern Poetry) by David Orr

This amusing and enlightening book about poetry is something that I'll recommend to many people, and not just my poet friends. It is also a guidebook that will give confidence to readers who have been hesitant to travel the pathways of poetry. David Orr is an award-winning poetry critic whose work is "clear-eyed, opinionated and idiosyncratic" (as praised by Tom Perrotta).

In this book, Orr demystifies contemporary poetry for general readers. Rather than talking about poetry "as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone" it is helpful to think of it as a foreign destination that "both welcomes and confounds" a traveller. I was tickled that Orr used Belgium as a hypothetical example, since I've just returned from a trip there. Orr writes that you would not "decide in advance that you'd never understand Belgians because you couldn't immediately determine why their most famous public statue is a depiction of a naked kid peeing in a fountain. You'd probably figure, hey, that's what they like in Belgium; if I stick around long enough, maybe it'll all make sense."

Why bother with poetry? In the final chapter, Orr addresses this question with humility and wit. The "typical defense of poetry tends to assume that it's enough to point out that the art form does something interesting or clever or attractive, when the real difficulty lies in demonstrating that poetry does something so interesting, clever, or attractive that people should forego other activities in order to enjoy its interestingly clever attractiveness."

Forego other activities and treat yourself to Orr's delightful little book. (And then read some poetry!)

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