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An Introduction to English Poetry

3.63  ·  Rating Details  ·  178 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
A wise, absorbing, and surprising introduction to poetry written in English, from one of England's leading poets

James Fenton is that rare scholar "not ashamed to admit that he mostly reads for pleasure" (Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books). In this eminently readable guide to his abiding passion, he has distilled the essense of a library's--and a lifetime's--worth
Paperback, 152 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published May 30th 2002)
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Bookworm Sean
Feb 15, 2016 Bookworm Sean rated it it was ok
This book has its uses, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider it a worthy introduction to poetry. It’s far too brief. The sections are not explanatory enough to actually learn anything properly; it is rushed over and shortened down. After reading this I had to buy a more comprehensive book on poetry to even begin to comprehend the more intricate aspects such as metre and rhythm. I think this book is more of a reminder than an introduction. This would be helpful if you’re already aware of the f ...more
Feb 05, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Fenton’s book would’ve been more accurately titled ‘A Poet’s Introduction to English Poetry.’ For while he does indeed illuminate the various aspects of formal English poetry, the most interesting elements of his book are the little insights he shares, insights which testify to the ruminations of man steeped in his craft. These insights are all things a practising poet would very much treasure and want to learn, and so the aim of this brief study would seem, by design, to be geared towards poets ...more
Mar 24, 2014 Nikki rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very clear introduction to the formal aspects of poetry, but it also serves as a reintroduction for someone who has an English Lit degree but never got very interested in the technical aspects of poetry.

We disagree on quite a few things -- his characterisation of Anglo-Saxon poetry as "not English" (because of course, it is quintessentially English: the Anglo-Saxons became the English), for example, and his doubtfulness about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (there are dialect words in
Jayd Green
I don't often read non-fiction, and as such I'm not really sure how I'm meant to review a non-fiction book.

I read this as part of my English degree- not essential reading, just something to whet the appetite before term starts. I'm not the most familiar with the technical side of poetry, so it seemed like an introduction to that world would be beneficial. But, this book didn't really feel like an introduction to me. There were things I was expected to know, things I was meant to understand afte
Mark Nenadov
May 23, 2013 Mark Nenadov rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A wonderful little book, well suited for anyone who is serious about reading or writing poetry. It covers all the major metrical and rhyme forms in English poetry and does it in a engaging and readable way. It carries some fairly strong opinions, but manages to convey them in a lighthearted way.
David Marlow
May 20, 2016 David Marlow rated it it was amazing
As one would expect from an English Oxford professor of poetry, Fenton covers the basics very well. In simply named chapters ('The Iambic Pentameter', 'The Shorter Stanza', 'The Longer Stanza'), he defines his concepts clearly. He quotes the famous opening of Tennyson's 'Tithonus' and proceeds to a careful dissection of its verse:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies th
Jul 16, 2014 Tim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Perfect. Just what I was looking for. This is a neatly written encapsulation of poetic form. I must have been absent the day they taught poetry in school because I have gone for 47 years in virtual ignorance of this body of literature. Lately I've developed an interest in poetry and have started seeking it out. I wanted to understand the scaffolding on which poetry hangs, the framework and the language to describe and distinguish its different forms. Fenton delivered exactly what I needed here a ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Phil rated it it was amazing
Informative and accessible in equal measure.

I can't say it better than another review: "thorough, yet conversational".

A quick read and highly recommended.

This is a really great, flexible text—I'm pairing it with An Exaltation of Forms in the fall for a forms-based workshop and I'm glad that it doesn't go terribly into depth. The book does an excellent job of introducing formal ideas and offering the range of possibility they have, without marching students through 40-page chapters of scansion. (Also? A really nice revisiting for me, too!)
I do have a complete phobia when it comes to reading poetry and thought this might help me understand poetry better. However I did struggle with it. It is informative but I think it's more appropriate with a basic understanding of poetry.
Saying that I did enjoy it and gained from reading it, I would recommend it to someone with a passion for poetry.
Jul 05, 2008 Adam rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who does not consider himself a fan of poetry.
Shelves: poetry
An accessible and engrossing resource, Fenton's book changed my ideas of poetry, reacquainting me with the terms I had given lip service to learning in school and challenging me to begin composing for myself and to take on some of his assertions on the limitations of form. This book has been a resource for my own lectures on the similarities of newspaper headlines and poems.
Jun 09, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: literature
James Fenton has written one of the clearest books about reading English poetry that you could hope to find. I also like his collection Out of Danger.

This is a great book for A level English students. However, I think it should be read by almost anyone who has an interest in poetry: a serious person, writing intelligently about poetry is such a rare thing.
Nov 13, 2011 Emylie added it
Shelves: 2011-read
I'm not going to rate this one because I think my complete lack of understanding of poetry might cloud my judgement. That being said, I did learn a lot reading this book and he has a style I really enjoyed. I might pick this up again after the year is over and re-read it.
Aug 11, 2009 Alistair rated it really liked it
This is a little gem of a book, which does precisely what it says on the cover, leading the reader simply and succintly into the ideas and methods of English poetry. [Review continues at The Pequod]
Sep 27, 2007 Sammy rated it liked it
It's funny. It's light. It has some poetry slangs in it, but I'd be hard press to say how this book helps anybody understand English Poetry if they didn't already know something already.

But Fenton is a good prose writer. Very enjoyable, if unuseful, book.
Aug 09, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing
One of the most readable discussions of poetry I've encountered. Fenton is thorough, yet conversational. He clearly has a preference for more traditional forms, but I think that informs his authority on scansion, meter, etc.
May 17, 2013 Patrick rated it really liked it
This book does what it says, cogently describing and illustrating all of the major metrical and rhyme forms in English with good examples. Much better than Rhyme's Reason by Hollander.
Dec 08, 2014 Gileblit rated it it was amazing
Shelves: inglés, académicos
The perfect book to understand the metre of poetry in English, absolutely basic for all of those people who want to comprehend poems by authors such as Blake, Wordsworth or Heaney.
Sep 23, 2010 John rated it really liked it
an expert, swift, accessible primer to the basics of poetry--meter, rhyme, sestina, etc--in the english language. with wonderful examples throughout.
Ryan Roberts
May 20, 2013 Ryan Roberts rated it it was amazing
Fenton is a poetic genius, and this collection of essays (originally published for a newspaper) are extremely accessible and fun to read.
Jan 16, 2014 Max rated it did not like it
The theme of this book is teaching. The example is the author teaching the basics of poetry. This book teaches poetry. There is no theme.
Aug 09, 2010 H added it
Shelves: theory-criticism
A lively overview of scansion and prosody and their general historical development with great examples. An exciting, quick read.
Dec 09, 2010 Ruth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-guides
I am loving this book. The writing style is fluid and pleasurable; the information is clear and helpful.
Feb 21, 2008 Shoshana rated it really liked it
This goes on the very short list of textbooks that have made me laugh out loud. Snark on, James Fenton.
Mugren Al-Ohaly
A good reference book of the forms and tools of poetry
pip poesy
Feb 08, 2011 pip poesy rated it really liked it
Complicated but beautifully compelling.
Photo Eclectic
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Andy marked it as to-read
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James Fenton was born in Lincoln in 1949 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry. He has worked as political journalist, drama critic, book reviewer, war correspondent, foreign correspondent and columnist. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was Oxford Professor of Poetry for the period 1994-99. In 2007, Fenton was awarded the Queen's ...more
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