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A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  113 ratings  ·  27 reviews

From the former U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner, an illuminating dissection of poetic form for students, enthusiasts, and newcomers alike

A Little Book on Form brilliantly synthesizes Hass’s formidable gifts as both a poet and essayist. In it he takes up the central tension between poetry as genre and the poetics of the imagination. A wealt
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 6th 2018 by Ecco (first published August 26th 2014)
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3.93  · 
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 ·  113 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Do I put this in essays? Do I put this in poetry? Both. And certainly in "Finished-in-2017," as it will be the last.

This book was a bit of a struggle. It's big, for one thing. Damn near 500 pages. And it's not the same as essays on poetry I've read by, say, Tony Hoagland or Jane Hirshfield, both accomplished in the field.

No, as the introduction warns us, this book is based on Robert Hass's lecture notes from teaching at university. It reads it, too. You get definition of terms. You get a little
Don Hackett
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, especially the concept that form in poetry is about time, not space. A four-line stanza with breaks makes an interesting pattern on a page but the form is in the short pause after each line, and the longer pauses between stanzas. It reads easily, if you like poetry; if you don't you probably won't read it unless someone makes you.

The book is based on notes for a class he taught for people who want to write poetry but don't expect too esoteric an approach. He starts with the b
Ray Zimmerman
The chapter on satire taught me that some of my poems are satires, particularly those written in heroic couplets. Apparently, the use of forms is common in satire. This was only one of many revelations found within A Little Book on Form, which is not so little at over 400 pages, yet still not exhaustive on the subject. The chapter on "Reading the Sonnet" goes on for 50 pages, packed with examples.

The author begins with one line in his first chapter, appropriately titled "One," stating that it i
Dale Boyer
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not quite a little book, and not quite the font of revelation I'd hoped it would be, either. Hass is always interesting, readable and entertaining, and his knowledge of poetry is encyclopedic. However, if you're looking for a book that will give you insight into why certain poets break their lines or stanzas the way they do, you're not really going to find that here, because each poem is kind of an ideogram of itself. If you're strictly looking for examples of forms, this is a useful handbook. B ...more
Benjamin Kass
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I need a physical version of this, so I can just page through. It's a good book. It does a great job of taking you through examples of the form, tracing lineage, and showing the vastly different things poets can do. Admittedly I skipped over a lot of the "further reading" material, but I would like to go back to it some afternoon. This is the book that helped get me into haiku, and finally make me like Keats.

(view spoiler)
Kenton Yee
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Consider the opening quatrain of Emily Dickinson’s I cannot live with You:

I cannot live with You –
It would be Life –
And Life is over there –
Behind the Shelf

Its lines alternate between iambic trimeter and iambic bimeter, a shortening of Dickinson's usual alternating iambic tetra- and trimeters hymn form. There are no end rhymes (unless you consider Life and Shelf to be off rhymes). Its subject (Life) is abstract, and there is no imagery or movement until "over there / Behind the shelf.” Each of t
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I only skimmed the book over the course a few hours, so this is less a review than notes to myself for when I read it again. But read again I most certainly shall, because there is a lot to learn here. I originally saw it on a bookstore shelf and picked it up because, while I read and enjoy poetry, I've never actually studied it, so I thought this might help make up for my lack of college lit classes; I was not wrong.

The book sprang from the author's notes for a seminar for aspiring poets, and p
Therese Broderick
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I agree wholeheartedly with those reviewers, critics, and Goodreads subscribers who have lavished their praise upon this thrilling book. Perhaps every compliment within possibility has already been bestowed. I will offer only this idiosyncratic observation: the book's subtitle irks me. I want to substitute the phrase "imagining of" for "imagination of," because it is we writers, we poets, we human beings who activate the mental imagining of poetry and its vivifying forms.

From the perspective of
Luis Borjas
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best, and most thorough, exploration of the formal mindset in poetry: its motivations, its expressions throughout history, its evolution, its nigh-equivalence to the poetic impulse and the creative endeavor. Hass presents a cogent, well researched and supplemented approach to understanding the many forms that English poetry has taken, presenting compelling arguments to explore and converse with them. This well-reasoned tome is the first time I've managed to grok the elusive characte ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone with scant formal training in the structural and technical aspects of poetry, I found this book both fascinating and frustrating. It wasn't until the very end that I finally accepted that Hass was offering a richly annotated reference work and not a true introductory guide to the subject of poetic form. Now that I'm over my disappointment, I'm.excited to go back and dip into those sections that intrigued me most, mining Hass' lists of exemplars and perhaps even taking up his challenge ...more
David C Ward
An interesting book that does make you wonder what publishers have in mind - is there a market for essentially the very detailed lecture/class notes of a fine poet who also teaches? Interesting and instructive in parts, especially in the beginnings when Hass riffs on numbers, it also gets bogged down in lists, extensive quotations, assignments etc that keep this from being something less than a handbook or instruction manual let alone an argument about form. Lots of interesting bits though. Now ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, poetry
This is such a resource. It is an ambitious review of poetic forms, and includes many examples of each form, recommending even more poems for outside reading. I enjoyed reading Hass's history and analysis of poetic form, and, while this is a long book that required a good amount of time to read, it did not drag in the way a similarly themed textbook might.

Also, and this is completely irrelevant, but the cover is gorgeous. This color combination is my favorite.
Gerry LaFemina
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hass's ironically titled (It is a BIG book--in both its length and breadth) A Little Book on Form, is smart and insightful. I sometimes want to argue with him (which is, aas, impossible), and sometimes feel the push toward a belief that the fractal/LANGUAGE poetics is the most relevent school of poetry today overwhelms the arguments, but there's no doubt that Hass is well read, erudite, and cares, deeply, about poetry and the history of prosody.
Scott Wiggerman
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
A challenging book at times, but also insightful. It's not quite what I expected, and a good portion of the book focuses on three forms: sonnets, odes, and elegies. There are much shorter chapters on other forms, like sestinas, prose poems, etc., and Hass presents a brief history of each of the forms complete with examples. I will add this his final chapters on scansion and meter are excellent.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Little? Actually, quite lengthy and informed. Hass has penned a solid look at the ways forms work, even so-called free verse. The examples within range from classics by Frost to lesser known (to this reader) ghazals (and what is easily my favorite poetry from C. D. Wright), all discussed with clarity and focus. Great stuff.
Good morning to everyone except the person who decided this book didn't need an index.... This book could have been an incredibly useful reference text, but good luck finding the passages you were looking for.
Meg Gee
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book for reimagining form that is accessible for the academic and layman alike. Wish there were more ways in which the poetry was used, such as prompts at the end of each chapter that utilized the examples thoroughly. Overall, lovely. I will be purchasing my own copy.
Kendra Drischler
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a smart overview of how poetic form work in English, with Hass's trademark breeziness. I could have done without pages and pages of lists of poems in the main text, though: there should have been an index.
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book feels essential somehow. A deeply enjoyable dive into many and various poetic forms, with copious and apposite examples, that will also serve as an invaluable reference in years to come. Hass also uses a light hand to suggest further reading so that you don't feel browbeaten or exhausted.
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: college
Ditto for previous book - didn't finish, class is over, woohoo.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great resource for teaching poetic form and devices to high school students.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent new book on poetic forms, one stanza length at a time.
which lena
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
excellent reference on craft - adding it to my reference shelf.
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable.
It brought me back to the poetry classes I took a decade or so ago, and made me think about my current lyric writing in new ways. Rekindled an interest in poetry.
Alan Lindsay
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I'm rounding up. It's an excellent book. One could quibble here and there (I find it surprising, given how much IS covered that 1) there's no mention of concrete poetry (the work of John Hollander) and 2) that in the chapter on prose poetry, Caroline Forche is not mentioned). But if you don't know much about poetry, it's a fantastic introduction, and if you know a lot about poetry, you'll still find things in here you don't know and perspectives that will make poetry richer for you. The chapter ...more
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Robert Hass was born in San Francisco and lives in Berkeley, California, where he teaches at the University of California. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. A MacArthur Fellow and a two-time winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he has published poems, literary essays, and translations. He is married to the poet Brenda Hillman.
“In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye proposes a way of looking at narrative genres based on the seasonal circle of our lives. Comedy is associated with spring and fertility ritual, tragedy with autumn and rituals for allaying the ghosts of harvest. Romance, stories that tend to flatter a culture’s values, belong to high summer, and satire belongs to winter. It is the world stripped bare.” 0 likes
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