Phoenixfalls's Reviews > Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

Beautiful and Pointless by David Orr
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Apr 20, 11

bookshelves: nonfiction, poetry
Read from April 13 to 20, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

This is not at all the book I expected, given its title and jacket blurb.

It professes to be "A Guide to Modern Poetry," and there is much talk about Orr's analogy that one should approach poetry as one would a foreign city, but there's precious little actual poetry discussed within this volume. Instead, each section feels more like I've stepped into the middle of someone else's conversation -- for example, in the first chapter, Orr talks about why poetry can be but isn't solely a personal confessional, but since I never thought that was poetry's only goal the whole chapter seemed somewhat wasted. Similarly with the second chapter, which argues that poets can be and often are political -- I knew that already, and it stands to reason that most non-poetry readers would know that as well because many (if not most) of the poems in a high school curriculum are political in nature. And I had the same problem in the chapters on poetic ambition and the poetic "fishbowl" -- I'm sure these are very important concerns to modern poets, but they are of very little interest to this dilettante of a poetry reader.

There is a tremendously clear and useful chapter on form, but as it spends very little time addressing the different ways contemporary poets treat form when compared to classical poets, it feels incomplete for what is supposed to be a book specifically aimed at making modern poetry accessible.

The whole book feels, really, more like a guide to the world that modern poetry gets written in -- a world of cliques and battles between competing desires to be academic and artistic and very much caught in the shadow of the larger role poetry used to play in culture. Orr is quite funny at times when talking about that world, and tosses off absolutely fascinating comments about how the world got to be that way without elaborating (I really wish he had elaborated on some of them!), but I had no real interest because it always seemed to be a frighteningly insular and myopic place, and this book simply reaffirmed my previous evaluation.

I think I will go curl up with my copy of 101 Famous Poems now.
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04/14/2011 page 37
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