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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

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Stephen Fry believes that if one can speak and read English, one can write poetry. In The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, he invites readers to discover the delights of writing poetry for pleasure and provides the tools and confidence to get started. Through enjoyable exercises, witty insights, and simple step-by-step advice, Fry introduces the concepts of Metre, Rhyme, Form, Diction, and Poetics.

Most of us have never been taught to read or write poetry, and so it can seem mysterious and intimidating. But Fry, a wonderfully competent, engaging teacher and a writer of poetry himself, sets out to correct this problem by explaining the various elements of poetry in simple terms, without condescension. Fry's method works, and his enthusiasm is contagious as he explores different forms of poetry: the haiku, the ballad, the villanelle, and the sonnet, among many others. Along the way, he introduces us to poets we've heard of but never read. is not just the survey course you never took in college, it's a lively celebration of poetry that makes even the most reluctant reader want to pick up a pencil and give it a try.

357 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Stephen Fry

226 books10k followers
Stephen John Fry is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.

See also Mrs. Stephen Fry as a pseudonym of the author.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 337 reviews
Profile Image for Paul.
2,309 reviews20 followers
April 17, 2018
I'm a compulsive book finisher. I almost always read a book to the end, no matter how little I'm enjoying it. There have been three exceptions to this 'rule' (character trait?) in my life and this book is one of them.

I bought it for my wife as a Christmas present back in 2005, poetry being her thang. As it was sitting around the house, I started reading it too. I didn't get far. I don't know why I didn't finish it. It may have been down to not having the time to do the exercises contained within it but not wanting to just skip over them.

Anyway, thirteen years later, I have finally got around to finishing this book and, I have to say, I enjoyed reading it. Mr. Fry speaks eloquently, informatively and entertainingly on the subject of writing poetry.

Doing the exercises, however, has been a small slice of Hell. Seriously, it was like having homework again; not what I wanted in my life as a 42-year-old long out of formal edumacation!

Actually, part of me did kind of enjoy doing the exercises... the masochistic, self-loathing part of me. If this book has taught me anything, it's that I am definitely NOT a poet. :-)
Profile Image for Ryan.
87 reviews23 followers
June 29, 2015
It's not you Fry it's me.

I have always had the desire to love poetry. I've always felt like it was within my grasp but never quite there. If I'm honest after reading the reviews, I was hoping Fry was going to convince me, have some secret this book that finally made me get it.

In retrospect this was naive, I'm never going to love poetry as much as I want to. I might still try writing a little, but if I'm honest, Fry has turned me away rather than pushing me towards doing so.

The level of technical language and form described here is not what I wanted I'll be honest. Maybe knowing all this is how to write poetry but it's a step too far for me I think. I found how heavy it all is got exhausting and Fry exercises daunting and beyond me most of the time. Maybe I'm not a poet.

"Go on you'll have great fun honestly" he says with glee at almost every task. But being pigeon holed into writing in a certain style I don't fully grasp about a subject I'm not passionate about it not why I'd ever write poetry.

Maybe I'll still use poetry as a form of self expression as I planned but now I feel like Fry and the poetry world will be frowning on me for not knowing the metre and style I am trying to emulate. And I'll certainly still try reading more poetry even though I find my attention spam struggles with that sometimes too. (Like I said, it's almost certainly me)

What Fry writes himself is probably 2 stars for me, the extract of great poems were probably my favourite part and manage to bring it up to the 3.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
308 reviews170 followers
July 22, 2008
The only -- and I do mean the only -- negative thing I can say about this book is that Stephen Fry has taken the run-on sentence to pathological levels. The occasional grammatical slip-up hardly warrants notice, but I swear that throughout all 327 pages of this book, there was at least one run-on sentence per page. Someone (preferably his editor?) needs to pull him aside and introduce him to semi-colons.

Other than that editing issue, this book was buckets of fun and superbly useful for anyone who used to know something about poetry but has forgotten it all, or for someone who never knew much about poetry but has always been curious about how it works. Fry introduces the reader to a variety of forms and styles that have been used throughout the ages and in various cultures, explaining their sometimes complicated rules clearly and humorously.

The exercises are fun and he offers a lot of solid, practical advice for readers wanting to try their own hand at poetry. This is the ideal book for former English majors or lit nerds (the glossary alone is a valuable and amusing source of trivia and impressive terminology), aspiring poets, or anyone interested in what exactly poetry is all about.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,871 reviews292 followers
April 6, 2023
Fry cleverly drags out the reading of this book by forcing the reader to take a vow to read all the poems aloud and to do all the exercises in the book. I did well until I came to the next-to-last chapter of the book, a chapter on forms. I admit it: I didn't do any of the exercises on writing pantoums and ballads and haiku. I fully intend to go back and do these at my leisure, but I felt a strong need to go ahead and finish the blooming book. It does count, right? I don't think we have any requirements about adhering to silly vows taken to a book, do we?

Profile Image for Katia N.
586 reviews706 followers
November 24, 2017
This is the book by Stephen Fry which is intended to help the reader to start writing poems. In my case, I wanted to understand better how the poetry in English actually works. I love poetry. But I can count on the fingers of the one hand how many English poets I actually enjoy reading. So I wanted to find out a bit more about the poetic tradition in English. And, I think, this book has actually helped a bit.

It is a humorous, charming introduction into the formal prosody talking about metre, rhyme, stansas and layouts. It explained why certain tools do not work in English language while the others do. It might be a bit too technical sometimes, but humorous as well: Fry illustrates the concepts with his poems specifically written for this. Respectively, the poems are not very good, but very effective.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 10 books111 followers
July 19, 2019
Most of poetry nowadays? According to Stephen Fry: 'dreary, self-indulgent, randomly lineated drivel'... Ouch! Ouch and yet, I personally think he is quite right.

It wouldn't cross your mind to call yourself a musician while having never bothered to learn how to play any instrument, right? Well, when it comes to poetry these days he has the feeling that too many so called 'poets' just dabble without having a clue of what poetry is to start with! For that, he blames the triumphal rise of free verse. Not that he dislikes free verse (he is very clear about that!) but, he believes it has given an excuse to too many to pick up a pen and throw words at random, believing poetry is just about 'pouring it out' when... it's not! What about technique? What about rules? What about everything that good old fashion prosody encompasses -forms, metres, accentuations, rhymes and else?

Now, before going any further let's stop right here, and clarify something bluntly: there is nothing wrong with breaking rules... as long as one knows what the rules are in the first place! (Duh!) Doing otherwise would be like being a pigeon cr@pping all over a chessboard-maybe fun and entertaining to some, but won't qualify you to be a Grandmaster (alright, he doesn't exactly uses these words but, you get the idea...). Well, same goes for poetry. As far as he is concerned, it's a craft that requires apprenticeship that is, knowing the rules from traditional forms. It's straightforward:

'initiation into the technique of poetry is all part of becoming a poet and it is pleasurable.'

As I said, straightforward. As a down to earth amateur, his goal here indeed is not to bore you with dry academic terminology thrown at your face to impress but, to entertain you (yes! 'entertain' because it's all 'pleasurable' indeed!) with a display of all the tools available to traditional poetry and that makes a poem, well, a poem -and not some 'dreary, self-indulgent, randomly lineated drivel'! Ah!

Gosh! How I love this book! It's instructive, incisive, fun, relevant and, despite its strong views, never condescending nor overly strict -e.g. see how he deals with William Blake.

I love his feel and heartfelt passion for poetry. I love the core ethos behind it all that is, everyone can write decently if putting in enough efforts. I even love how he takes the time to give the novice reader tools to facilitate such efforts, each chapters ending with exercises so as to make it all your own.

Now, you might not end up by actually writing poetry as he intends you to here but, full of passion it will at least gives you the basic understanding necessary to better appreciate the art, all in a fun and accessible way. And that, alone, is priceless.

A more than refreshing read.
Profile Image for Jo Berry ☀️.
263 reviews8 followers
August 21, 2022
I’ve had the hardback version of this book on my shelf for years, but coming across the audiobook version is what finally made me pick it up. I hoped I could listen and read along at the same time, although I found the audiobook doesn’t quite match up with the print version - things are slightly rearranged and parts omitted. So, I listened and referred to the book here and there.

I actually think there’s a lot to be said for both versions. It was good to hear Stephen Fry speak the stressed syllables and rhythms, as that might have been harder to follow from the book. On the other hand, it’s nice to see the poems and their shapes on the page. If you do have access to both versions, I recommend it - listen first, read later.

However you read it, I do think this book is useful if you want an introduction to poetry AND you want to write poetry as well. It covers both bases well, although you might lose patience in the first chapter on metre. All those ti tum, ti tum, ti tums can be a bit maddening. If it is a bit much, go on to chapter 2 on rhyme, as that’s a lot easier to follow. As is chapter 3 on poetic form.

Overall, this is a very accessible book, which does make you feel like you’re getting your foot in the door of understanding poetry. I recommend it to beginners.
Profile Image for Dane Cobain.
Author 28 books309 followers
May 23, 2018
This book is subtitled “unlocking the poet within”, but I don’t know if I’d agree with that. I personally found it supremely off-putting, not because of the information itself but because of the way that it was presented.

I’ve always considered myself a Stephen Fry fan, and I’ve already read a half dozen or so of his books. My mum always accuses him of being pompous, stuck-up and a little unlikeable, but I’d never seen that before. But here, that side of his personality is out in abundance. I mean, it was to the point at which it was making me angry to read it and I only forced myself to continue because I was planning on reading all of Fry’s books. But after this one, I’m not sure if I want to continue.

It wasn’t a problem with the actual content of the book, because it’s all factually correct and has the potential to be quite a useful little reference book. I mean, it tells you everything you need to know about different poetic forms and also the syllable counts, stresses and rhyming schemes that underlie these forms and make them work in the first place. I had no problem with the information itself because it was always correct as far as I could see.

The problem that I had was with the way in which the information was delivered. Fry came across as so smug about it all that it really put me off, especially when he pulled some of his little tricks, like deliberately writing bad free verse poetry and then using that to evidence his belief that free verse poetry isn’t worth reading.

Personally, I prefer free verse poetry, but I used to like rhyming poetry as well. After reading this book, I’m not so sure. Fry kind of makes out as though the two forms of poetry can’t coexist, but I’m betting against him. He seemed like a grumpy old man who’s annoyed because poetry has evolved and he hasn’t.
Profile Image for Carrie.
26 reviews2 followers
January 27, 2009
Not, perhaps, quite so detailed as I would have liked. However, it is written with all the wit, clarity and charming-ness that one has come to expect of Mr Fry. And it is beautifully presented. I particularly appreciated the use of a table to show the way in which a poem worked, its rhyme scheme folding in on itself like a collapsing umbrella.
Profile Image for Wilson.
41 reviews
July 26, 2012
I loved this book. I think I loved it more because I listened to it rather than reading it. Fry's warm, plummy voice and his tonal variations - now chummy, now wry, now sentimental, now no-nonsense - add so much to the experience.

And the book itself is delightful. If you're a lover of words, of language (particularly, though not necessarily exclusively, of the English language), then you will at least appreciate this book, and probably love it as much as I did, even if you never end up writing a poem as a result of reading it.

For that, of course, is Fry's main goal here: to get more people to write poems. Not to publish them (necessarily) - this is not a 'How to Get Your Poetry Published' manual at all, at all. In fact, he himself points out that while he has written much poetry, it's all for his own pleasure - the pleasure of the creation, and of the subsequent enjoyment. He hasn't published any of it.

No, this is a different sort of How To text altogether, wherein Fry teaches the reader how to write poems. You might think that this is something that anyone can do, and to a small degree, you'd be right. But if you were to try it without what this book can teach you (whether you get it from this book or not), you would be severely handicapped. It would be like trying to paint a picture without knowing anything about the wheel of colours, how paints mix, what kind of brushstrokes have what kind of effect, and so on.

After a short apologia for why one would - and in his opinion, should - write poetry, and some preparatory remarks, Fry starts with the nuts and bolts of prosody (which, by the way, is an example of the sort of term he introduces, smoothly and painlessly, throughout the book) with the elements of meter: the different kinds of poetic 'foot', and the many ways those feet can be joined together into a line.

Before moving into how lines can be joined together, Fry detours into a discussion of the different kinds of rhyming (yes, there are different kinds, from strict to none and everything in between).

From there, he comes back to form, but now in bigger chunks: how poetic lines (as described earlier) can be - or more to the point, have been - put together in various ways to create various poetic forms. A few of the forms, or at least their names, are familiar - sonnet, limerick, haiku - but they're all reviewed and illustrated with clever little self-referential versions that poetically describe themselves. The book's worth reading (or listening to) just for the fun of reading/hearing those.

Fry also provides opportunities for the listener (or reader) to practice techniques for themselves, with short exercises scattered throughout the book. This, I feel, is the part that lends itself least well to the audiobook format, at least for me, because I was listening while I was commuting (as I expect many people do) and so wasn't really in a position to whip out a notebook and write down an example of iambic pentameter, or a rhyme for "girl".

But even if you don't write down a thing, never end up writing a word of poetry, this book is totally worth the listen (or read) - just for the experience of understanding the sorts of things that can go into a poem, and help you appreciate why a particular poem - or really, even a set of song lyrics - works well for you or doesn't.

This may be the only book I've ever listened to that I'm planning to go back to. I enjoyed it - and enjoyed learning from it - that much.

Highly, highly recommended!
Profile Image for Alarie.
Author 13 books79 followers
January 9, 2015
First, I adore Stephen Fry. I can’t think of anyone else who speaks so quickly, authoritatively, articulately, and hilariously on more topics than I can name. He had me from line one in the Foreword: “I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry.”

Furthermore, he takes his poetry seriously. He explains every form I’ve heard of and then some, and I’ve read several books on poetic forms. He fills in a lot of history and background, giving samples from the masters. Page after page of reading scansion can be very, very dull. However, Fry also brings something to this topic that other style books lack - hilarity. I burst out laughing many times, especially during his self-deprecating moments. For instance, in discussing the sprung rhythm of Gerard Manley Hopkins, he says, “Relax:…Only three people in the world understand it, one is dead, the other has gone mad and the third is me, and I have forgotten.”

He provides sample poems in each form that illustrate the length, meter, and rhyme scheme while talking about the elements that make up that form. They’re doggerel, but effective learning tools. In fact, he keeps encouraging the reader not to be afraid to try the complex forms, saying you can surely do better than he did.

My favorite sections of the book were the more general discussions on the essential of words, the strength of poetry, and his always strong opinions on the state of writing. He does NOT address how to write free verse. He prefers form, but feels that any poet should experiment
and branch out of his comfort zone. Basically, he feels you should know the rules before you break them.

I even love his plea to readers not to send him their poetry. Still, I must admit it’s tempting.
Profile Image for Keerthi.
66 reviews19 followers
May 24, 2017
The book on prosody I did not realise I needed. In the land of free verse, what weight does form hold?

I liked his lines on how nobody would give someone a piano and ask them to "express themselves" by hitting random keys. You may not become a pianist, but you still have to learn the scales. Poetry becomes a fascinating hobby if one sticks to the rules. I can see why Raymond Quenaeau wrote 'Exercises in Style'. A very useful teaching manual/reference book.
Profile Image for Talbot Hook.
548 reviews27 followers
February 21, 2019
The following quotes fundamentally sum up both my disgust with modernity's flattening-out of beauty and practiced skill and our habit of simply telling people to express themselves, whatever the impetus, method, or output. As Hitchens wittily quoted: "Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay."

Here is Fry's take on a similar matter. Just imagine telling your students:

"Don't worry, it doesn't have to rhyme. Don't bother with meter and verses. Just express yourself. Pour out your feelings.

Suppose you had never played the piano in your life.

Don't worry, just lift the lid and express yourself. Pour out your feelings.

We have all heard children do just that and we have all wanted to treat them with great violence as a result. Yet this is the only instruction we are ever likely to get in the art of writing poetry."

Know rules, and then break them. Or don't. You know. Sometimes rules are a beautiful thing. And this book will teach them to you, and more besides.
Profile Image for Vashik A.
14 reviews45 followers
July 16, 2019
Great Poetry is so sublime that we often think that it can be written only by some kind of divine inspiration. By the help of the mysterious Muse called Urania, who, according to Milton, came to him every night and whispered to his ear the sacred lines of his epic 'Paradise Lost'.

It would be silly to deny existence of the divine - or spiritual and mysterious - element imbibed in writing poetry. But, it is easy to forget that poetry consists of metre, rhyme, styles, shapes, which every poet learned, experimented, mended and adapted to his (or her) own pen.

In his 'Ode Less Travelled', Stephen Fry teaches you those nuances and reveals the non-mysterious, but equally curious, parts of poetry-making. Fry writes poetry himself. He is no Coleridge, Wordsworth or Shelley - he is honest about his modesty. He is a poetry lover, an enthusiast - like you and me - who scribbles his own few lines at his leisure time and now wants to teach you what he learnt.

Since you are reading this - it's quite likely that you are a book-lover and it won't take you much of an effort to start reading Fry's book with your favourite poet's one next to it. Get yourself a drink, take a seat in your comfy chair, get Fry's book and take your poet's one from the shelf. Read Fry's chapter 1 and then switch and read a line or two (or three) of your favourite poem. You will notice small, intricate techniques that your poet used when writing their verse. They knew what they were doing. They knew where to use tetrameter or pentameter, where to try sonnet or epic, where to use ten syllables or nine.

I would like to have a friend like Stephen Fry. With the same level of erudition, values and good manners as him. With whom you can drink and talk, not about trivial worldly politics, but about lives of poets, beauty of their poetry, and sophistication of their tools. Until I meet Stephen Fry, I will enjoy his company through his brilliant books.
Profile Image for renping.
111 reviews4 followers
April 6, 2022
So the cool thing about poetry is there are all these rules that you have to fit, so it's like solving a word puzzle. And if you can solve, say,, the villanelle in an original way, then it's really good poetry.
I kind of get why those Jane austen people were always composing rhymes and verse riddles. It's really fun.

This book is not really like a textbook, and I'm not sure how comprehensive or academic content is. It's like an interesting rule book so that you know the rules of poetry. I don't wanna say that this helped me enjoy poetry because i already did and i am not sure that you would enjoy this if you weren't at least a little interested in language. But if you do like it I think this would give you a more informed perspective on it and also give you a good time.
Profile Image for Faye.
275 reviews
August 15, 2014
I read this book thinking that if anyone could make me love poetry and want to write my own, that person was Stephen Fry. Sadly, that does not appear to have happened.

I enjoyed the level of passion with which he wrote it, but then again, I can enjoy pretty much anything that's presented by someone with a great passion for whatever it is, even if I don't share that passion myself. I tried some of the poetry exercises, and even found myself enjoying them. And after reading about all the different kinds of poetry and what makes them tick, I feel I now understand poetry, and I won't have to sit there anymore in puzzlement wondering why this poem is considered so great when the rhythm is all wrong, or why this poem is a masterpiece even though some of the "rhymes" are way off base. Quite often there is a name for these off-putting moments in poetry, and that makes it acceptable to the poetic community.

These things I now understand. The only problem is, I still don't LIKE them.

Here's where this book lost a star for me - there are only a VERY few poems I can read and enjoy - ones that have a firm rhythmic structure and stick to it, ones that have a point and tell a story without being about love or beauty or anything depressive or crude, and (I have recently discovered) ones that are "concrete" poetry - and they are apparently not the ones that Stephen Fry enjoys. He would ramble on forever in glowing terms about poems or styles that I didn't think were all that, and then breeze over the forms that made sense to me with a dismissive wave of his hand, feeling that they lacked imagination or daring or were simply a waste of time. Every time he would say something along the lines of "Some people may like this form," I felt like raising my hand. This happens to me so often in life that I'm getting rather used to it. In fact, I long ago began to believe that if my opinion was different from the usual, that meant I was doing something right. So in a roundabout way, this book actually made me feel better about my taste (or lack thereof) in poetry.

In a nutshell, I think this book does what it claims it will do, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to "unlock the poet within." I just don't seem to have one within me. And that's okay, too.
Profile Image for Artemis Crescent.
902 reviews
January 11, 2023
2023 EDIT: Part of my 2023 clear-up, of books I no longer like, or am no longer interested in, or remember well as standing out, or find as special anymore, or I otherwise will not miss.

Final Score: 3/5

Original Review:

I admit I never really cared for poetry. I still don't. But Stephen Fry is one of the greatest TV personalities out there (to those who've never heard of him, he has a HUGE amount of credits to his name in British television, and in America. Go look them up, you might be surprised). Anything by him, I was bound to enjoy. 'The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within' is his book on writing poetry - his revered hobby - and it is wonderfully engaging as well as educational, and humorous.

It was nice to read it years ago in university with Mr Fry's voice in my mind. His dry yet affable British wit shines through in his teachings about how poetry works, and in the examples he uses for demonstrations, both positive and negative. His personal touches are also effective in reminding the reader that the book was written by a real human being and not by some distant, disinterested English teacher tasked to go through a textbook. Stephen Fry truly is one of the most talented celebrities out there.

A humble and remarkably well-written book, to be read whether you like poems or not.

Final Score: 4/5
Profile Image for Robert Beveridge.
2,402 reviews161 followers
June 26, 2009
Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within (Gotham, 2005)

I think every poet at some point, no matter how much they've been raised on free verse, turns his or her attention to formal verse. Thus the enduring popularity of form dictionaries (my personal favorite has always been Dacey and Jauss' Strong Measures). In The Ode Less Travelled (and points to Fry for spelling “travelled” right when my word processor's dictionary flags it as incorrect), Fry has little truck with free verse; it's all forms all the time here, and is an excellent addition to the formal-verse canon.

After some general introductory chapters, Fry breaks a number of types of formal verse down and introduces us to each, with examples both from classic poets and from his own doggerel (I suspect that Fry, who is far more accomplished than he lets on here, specifically wrote doggerel for inclusion here in order to make it all look a great deal easier). While the book is by no means exhaustive—I don't think I've ever run across a truly exhaustive form dictionary—it's a fine introduction to many of the most popular and enduring forms. If you're a poet, even if you haven't discovered the lure of formal verse yet, it's well worth picking this up. You'll get there eventually. ****
Profile Image for Pete daPixie.
1,505 reviews3 followers
February 23, 2010
I just can't remember touching poetry during my incarceration at school. If I was asked I'd have probably said that a villanelle was a female pickpocket. Stephen Fry's book is a wonderful idiots guide through iambic pentameter, the trochee, spondee and all the twiddledy dees of meter and rhyme from Homer through to Zephaniah.
Mr Fry is a blast. If you are into poetry, then this book, I'm sure, will enrich your experience. If you hate poetry, then 'The Ode Less Travelled' is just what you need to introduce you into the magical world of stanzas, quatrains, ballads, odes, villanelles, sestinas, rondeaus, rondelets, limericks and sonnets. It's a work book too, with exercises set at the end of each chapter to make sure the reader is paying attention.
I casually picked this little gem up in the local library, and now I'm very tempted to aquire my own copy, to keep at hand, such is the wealth of information contained within., not for ambition or bread,
or the strut and trade of charms
on the ivory stages
but for the common wages
of their most secret heart.
Profile Image for Jim Razinha.
1,294 reviews67 followers
June 4, 2020
I try to get outside my comfort zone sometimes and I got this a couple of years ago to do just that but didn't get too far. I was told ...by several people...that I had to read it out loud. So...it languished for a while. Then I found out that Stephen Fry read it himself for an audiobook. I'll listen to lecture series, but audiobooks are not my thing.

Until this one. I read along with Mr. Fry. I loved his voice and he really made his words come alive. For a book on poetry, his prose was better than any poem I have ever read. And he gets into such technicalities! "iamb, the trochee, the pyrrhic, and the spondee [...] anapest and the dactyl, the molossus, the tribach, the amphibrach and the amphimacer"...sounds like a biology lesson.

He doesn't spend much time on "free verse", which is what I really need explained to me - rhymeless, meterless words are...well...not poems. But that's my failing.

I learned a lot (apart from the entire subject, "ullage" is not a word I encounter in casual reading!) Hearing him read while I read along was eminently helpful. I don't intend to write anything as he suggests, beyond my sometimes witty and sometimes just groaning limericks, and I don't know how much I'll read, but I do think I'll return to this again.
Profile Image for Andrew Roycroft.
46 reviews
February 1, 2018
This is a deeply frustrating book. Fry’s explanation of the mechanics of poetry is extremely good, his range of illustration and quotation from practicing poets is wide and apt, and his own turn of phrase is often delicious. But I have a couple of big reservations about this book.

Firstly, the book is too strongly antagonistic towards modern poetry. Fry loves traditional form and habitually looks askance at more free styles of writing. That is fine, but it becomes a little repetitive after a while.

Secondly, and this is the more significant reservation, Fry’s occasional and extreme vulgarity really devalues the book. This is not prudishness - I don’t expect a sanitised text - but about taste. The examples given in the chapter in comic verse are among the most graphic and utterly perverted words I have ever had the misfortune of reading. Why, inflict this on an otherwise well thought out text? There’s a real absence of judgement - aesthetic and moral - in the choice of poems included in that particular chapter.

A helpful book rendered unpleasant by poor authorial and editorial choices. Such a shame.
Profile Image for Ploppy.
38 reviews31 followers
May 24, 2015
A brilliant book. Fry's warm authorial voice (you really feel as if he's speaking directly to you) guides the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine corridors of metre, rhyme and various conventional and less conventional poetic forms, in order to help him write his own poetry.
Fry is a humble, even self-deprecating, narrator, yet he is precise and he makes penetrating remarks on the various poems he cites and on poetry in general. I thoroughly agree with the stress he puts on FORM, and the fact that today sometimes utter tosh is somehow passed off as "modern" and "free" poetry. People seem to forget that the great innovators had experimented with classical forms before going on their own paths, and often even their later poems are written in these very same seemingly constraining forms. They knew what they were doing, and this book helps to know too.
Profile Image for Arjun Ravichandran.
224 reviews141 followers
June 29, 2014
Great, meaty introduction to the technical aspects of poetry by the venerable Mr.Fry. The bases covered include rhyme schemes, meters, the various poetry forms, and a concluding rant about the state of poetry today. Even though this is an introduction, this is not a book that you can skim through. Fry introduces a host of technical terms that denote very real and important aspects of a poem, and he ends every chapter with an exercise that the reader is supposed to do. The tone is so conversational, friendly and the material is fascinating and well-explained. Sprinkled throughout the book are examples from poets far and wide, good and bad, who prop up the terms and concepts that the author is highlighting ; and he often prefaces the introduction of every new form with a bit of doggerel from his own pen to show us the basic outline. Overall, a very fun, informative and fascinating read.
Profile Image for Antonio  Hehir.
8 reviews5 followers
August 19, 2011
As a future English student, and a fan of Stephen Fry's writing I couldn't resist picking up this book and it didn't disappoint.

Stephen Fry guides us into the world of poetry and prosody with effortless charm and light hearted humour. He makes what could potentially be a dry and pretentious topic into a highly enjoyable and informative read. The definitions and descriptions of complicated greek terminology are backed up with historical examples making this book suitable for someone with little to no knowledge of poetry. Exercises encourage the readers exploration into their own poetic voice whilst teaching the fundamental principles behind form, metre and rhyme.

A highly recommended read for the aspiring poet.
Profile Image for Chloe Weir.
19 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2015
I love Stephen Fry, and to me, he can do no wrong. However, I really think that this book is a genuinely entertaining and informative book, even without that bias.

I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about poetry. Sadly, I was finding it difficult to find a book on the SUBJECT OF poetry, without it being about WRITING poetry. This is definitely one of the latter, BUT I still found it to be an excellent introduction on how to read different forms. There may be better books on this subject, but I doubt many of them would be as deeply humourous as this one.

Clever examples, wonderful descriptions and an obviously sincere love of the subject matter from the author made this book supremely entertaining.

Profile Image for David.
311 reviews117 followers
November 6, 2009
A most entertaining and informative guide to harnessing the creative powers to poetic expression, using the age-old techniques of iambic pentameter, etc. He explains it all very wittily and the book should be in every lit crit class syllabus. I rewrote a load of poems myself very effectively. It helped improve my limericks too.

There was a young parson named Bings,
Who talked about God and such things;
But his secret desire
Was a boy in the choir
With a bottom like jelly on springs.
Profile Image for Vicki Jarrett.
Author 8 books24 followers
November 12, 2012
This is one for complete novices in terms of reading poetry, let alone writing any. It's very accessible and doesn't either patronise or go over the head of the uninitiated. Fry explains not only some of the nuts and bolts of poetry in easy to understand and fun ways but also made me realise why the way we're taught poetry at school turns most people off it for life, which is a terribly sad loss for everyone, poets and readers alike.
Profile Image for Matthew Gatheringwater.
156 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2008
This book is vastly entertaining just to read, but I'd like to use it in the manner for which it was intended, as an instructional guide to exploring poetic forms by writing poetry. I'd love to find other readers who'd like to do the same, so we can compare notes (and poems) as we work our way through the book. If you're interested, contact me through GoodReads or at gatheringwater@yahoo.com.
4 reviews
April 26, 2009
Took me a long time to read this book; it's a very well written scholarly work and i thoroughly enjoyed it. Having read the book I picked up a copy of the audio book from the library and gave it a second go. Enjoyed it even more. If you are interested in poetry or would like to try and write poetry; this is definitely worth reading.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
August 28, 2010
I've been dipping in and out of this, rather than reading it straight through once. It isn't a textbook, if that's what you're looking for, but it is a very helpful guide. Stephen Fry's tone is light, funny, but his explanations and examples are good, and his attitude toward poetry -- that anyone can do it -- is refreshing. He's got a good overview of a lot of forms.
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