Poetry Toolkit: 'An Introduction to English Poetry'
Updated: Feb 3
First of all, contrary to what might be inferred by the title here's not an introduction to the history of English poetry, but an overview of its most common prosody. The point here indeed is to describe and explain, very briefly, what are the basic features of English poetry, and shed some light on why they became so successful in their use - why the prevalence of the iambic pentameter and not, said, the alexandrine? Why villanelles are so damn difficult to write? Why even the sonnet had to be modified from its original form to better be suited to the English language? For whose vaguely interested in the technical side of poetry, this book is therefore the perfect choice.
It's short, simple, approachable, and written in a pretty sharp style that makes it accessible from cover to cover.
The fact the author draws parallels with other languages like Latin, French, and Italian, makes it insightful and interesting. Above all, his acknowledgment that great poetry doesn't need to abide by strict codified rules allows him to nail a very important point:
'(…) for poets today, or in any age, the choice is not between freedom on the one hand and abstruse French forms on the other. The choice is between the nullity and vanity of our first efforts, and the developing of a sense of idiom, form, structure, metre, rhythm, line - all the characteristics of this verbal art.'
True, it might feel rushed at times (song lyrics and verse opera are just tossed at the end like what-the-heck!) but, all in all, it's accessible, open, straightforward, and always incisive. A very good read!
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