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How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry Paperback – March 7, 2000

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The Poems of T. S. Eliot: Collected and Uncollected Poems (Volume 1) by T. S. Eliot
"The Poems of T. S. Eliot" by Christopher Ricks
This critical edition of T. S. Eliot’s Poems establishes a new text of the Collected Poems 1909–1962, rectifying accidental omissions and errors that have crept in during the century since Eliot’s astonishing debut, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Learn more | See related books
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Editorial Reviews Review

Edward Hirsch's primer may very well inspire readers to catch the next flight for Houston and sign up for any and all of his courses. Not for nothing does this attentive and adoring poet-teacher title his book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry; Hirsch's big guide to getting the most out of this form is packed with inspiring examples and thousands of epigrams and allusions. Above all, he is intent on poetry's physical and emotional power. In chapters devoted to the lyric, the narrative, the poetry of sorrow, of ecstasy, of witness, Hirsch continually conveys the sheer ecstasy of this vital act of communication. (He takes us, for instance, with great care and mounting excitement, through Emily Brontë's "Spellbound," which he discovered at age 8 when "baseball season was over for the year.") Above all, there is the thrill of discovery as Hirsch offers up works by artists ranging from Anna Akhmatova to Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop to Adam Zagajewski, and everyone in between. I defy you not to fall in love with Wislawa Szymborska on the basis of "The Joy of Writing," which begins:
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Elsewhere, Hirsch's section on Sterling Brown's redefinitions of African American work songs should put this neglected poet back on the map. And his introductions to Eastern European poets such as Jirí Orten, Attila József, and Miklós Radnóti will make you want to ferret out their hard-to-find work. (Perhaps his publisher should put out a companion anthology...)

Hirsch manages to cram entire worlds and lives into 258 pages of text (which he follows up with a huge glossary and extended reading list). His two paragraphs on Juan Gelman, whose son was murdered and pregnant daughter-in-law disappeared during Argentina's "Dirty War," bring this man's art into clear, tragic focus. But even here, the compulsively generous author is compelled to enshrine the words of other critics, foregrounding Eduardo Galeano and Julio Cortázar, who describes Gelman's art as "a permanent caress of words on unknown tombs." What a pleasure it is to be inside Hirsch's head! He seems to have read everything and absorbed most of it, and he wears his considerable scholarship lightly. Many of his fellow poets have suffered for their art, have been imprisoned and killed--but above all, Hirsch makes us realize that, no matter what the artist's circumstances, subject, or theme, "the stakes are always high" in this game that writer and reader alike must keep playing. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Although it was only a decade ago that doomsayers foresaw the death of poetry as a viable literary genre, there has been a remarkable resurgence of interest. Poetry slams at bookstores and nightclubs, "Poets in the Schools" programs, and the unprecedented appearance of poets on mainstream television all point to the renewed popularity of the genre. Here are two new guides designed to enrich the experience of poetry. Hirsch (On Love, LJ 6/15/98) has gathered an eclectic group of poems from many times and places, with selections as varied as postwar Polish poetry, works by Keats and Christopher Smart, and lyrics from African American work songs. A prolific, award-winning poet in his own right, Hirsch suggests helpful strategies for understanding and appreciating each poem. The book is scholarly but very readable and incorporates interesting anecdotes from the lives of the poets. Part poetry explication and part memoir, Peacock's charming book includes 18 favorite poems that she has collected and cherished over the years. Offering sensitive interpretations of each work, Peacock tends to favor modern and contemporary poets such as May Swenson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Like Hirsch, Peacock is a popular and critically acclaimed poet; she is also a founder of the "Poetry in Motion" program that puts poetry in America's buses and subways. Peacock encourages the shared enjoyment of poetry through reading groups and provides practical advice for organizing a poetry circle. Most public libraries will want to acquire the Peacock book, while Hirsch is a good choice for academic and larger public libraries.AEllen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156005662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156005661
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

168 of 185 people found the following review helpful By Seachranaiche on September 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Edward Hirsch has written a meticulous analysis of the art of poetry, imbued with an authentic love of the form. From page to page he dissects and interprets; his enthusiasm remains high throughout. Not just the poetry, but also the poets themselves are lavished with heroic praise, their craft transcending the mortal. Their words are golden strands of virtue more appropriately whispered into the ears of gods.

But, but...

For those of us uneducated in the art of poetry there is a much more basic level of understanding that has to be achieved first: Why no punctuation? Why do sentences break in mid-breath? How does one find the meter in a poem? How does one read poetry without the stops and starts from line to line? Perhaps we should have learned this in school, but we didn't, so we bought this book.

This is a good book, really, but it is not what its title suggests. It should rather be entitled "The Love of Poetry", or "Falling in Love With Poetry", or "Furthering Your Love of Poetry", or something else emotive. "How to Read a Poem" sounds mechanical, the basics, just what those uneducated among us get when we do a keyword search on how to read a poem.

Select another book in order to learn how to read a poem, then graduate to this one once you comprehend the basics.
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97 of 106 people found the following review helpful By jjo on December 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I got this book because I'm a complete novice who would like to learn to enjoy poetry. The book certainly put me on the right track, as it was inspiring more than anything else.
My one gripe is that my biggest problem with poetry is that I simply don't understand much of it. Any time I pick up a poem, I will, sure as anything, hit a line or two (at least) I can't figure out, and then I lose interest in the poem. There is a skill to reading poetry and I don't have it yet. Hirsch at his best would pull a poem apart and explain his reading. However, many times he would quote a few lines and talk about how wonderful they were, without explaining what they meant to him, and I was clueless. It was fustrating to have a book that purports to explain poetry to novices assume I would understand something I didn't.
That said, I understood about 75% of the book, thought it beautifully written, and am now looking for other introductions to move me along the path.
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72 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Buckeye on August 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A mentor of mine always used to say "There are two kinds of people in this world!" and he would then expand on whatever dichotomy was on his mind at the moment. He might well have said that there are those who "get" poetry, and those who don't. I have always been firmly in the latter camp, but perhaps am more recently moving toward the former. Though I still have quite a ways to go, this book really helped move me along. This is a very well-written introduction to the joys of reading poetry. Besides presenting the reader with examples of many different types and styles of poetry it's just very enjoyable to read this author's writing.
While my reaction to the poems in the book is not even on the same scale as the author's very visceral, emotional responses, I feel like I nevertheless grasped enough of his reaction to know what he was feeling, and what he was getting at in his description. But I'll admit that some of the poems I read over and over again trying to detect some of *his* response in *me*, and I rarely did. I think this has more to do with my naivete, and I sort of envied the author's obvious depth of feeling in response to these poems.
Anyway - it's a great read and if you're a lover of poetry or even just curious about it, I recommend this book highly.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Roderick W. White on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoy reading Hirsch because he has a romantic love affair with poetry and his enthusiasm is infectious in the extreme.
This is an excellent introduction to what poetry is and what it can do. Hirsch focuses on the romantic/spiritual side to poetry, his favourite poets being Whitman and Emerson.
He does get a bit carried away with this at times and is best introducing new and obscure pots such as the modern Greek poet Cavafy.
It is not the sort of book you read over three days. I found myself reading very slowly, like eating a big rich chocolate dessert.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Judith A. Lanzinger on January 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was utterly charmed by this book, but unfortunately lost my copy half way through. I bought a second, determined to have it on hand to be a primary guide as I try to learn more about poetry. For those of us with "literal" minds, Hirsh's words offer plenty of reasons to persevere over what may at first seem to be imponderable communications. He emphasizes the excitement of puzzling out messages poets leave for us and the thrill of the feelings they elict in response. This is a very good book to have if you are growing into poetry or have wondered what all the fuss was about.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What an elegant, passionate, personal exploration of the joys of good poetry. I was instantly hooked by the author's beautiful prose and his obvious love of the subject. Knowledgeable without being condescending, he explores the importance of the reader's response in making poetry come to life, and he uses appropriate and interesting examples throughout. Despite the dreadfully stale title, this book is rich and rewarding and deserves a slow, savoring read. Recommended for all lovers of good writing, and especially those looking for a deeper experience of poetry. If you only buy one book on the poetic experience, let this be it.
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