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The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms Paperback – April 17, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Making of a Poem is among the best how-to-read-poetry titles. Edited by two of our greatest living poets, one Irish and female, the other American and male, it is both an exploration of poetic forms and an anthology. Eavan Boland and Mark Strand each offer an introduction and then give us a series of chapters devoted to particular verse forms--the sonnet, the ballad, the sestina, the villanelle, blank verse, the stanza--as well as a long section devoted to what they somewhat vaguely call shaping forms. This refers to poetic structures established not by a specific rhyme and/or metrical pattern but by content: the elegy, for example, or the pastoral or ode. The book then concludes with a section on open forms. Each chapter is conveniently subdivided, each topic simply defined: a single page gives "The Ballad at a Glance" (or, for that matter, the pantoum) as a quick overview of the form's structure. A page or two on the history of the form follows, along with a brief comment on "the contemporary context." Then a chronological anthology of poems demonstrates the particular form. In the sonnet's case, for instance, we are treated to 23 brilliantly chosen examples--everything from Shakespeare's "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" to Seamus Heaney's "The Haw Lantern" to Mary Jo Salter's playful "Half a Double Sonnet." The section then concludes with another brief analysis of one example. In this spot, the villanelle features Elizabeth Bishop's classic heartbreaker, "One Art," and blank verse gives us far too brief a take on Robert Frost's tantalizing "Directive." Itself worth the price of admission, the poem begins:
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simply by the loss
of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more than a house
Upon a farm that is no more than a farm
And in a town that is no more than a town.
One can readily see both the advantages and the limitations of such a format: definitions are kept lean, at times approaching the sound bite, and the short sentences and brief paragraphs often seem designed for a readership more accustomed to journalism than to the complexities of Dante (see, for example, the one-page history of the sestina). All of this looks like an attempt to reach an audience of both college students and general readers. While more information might help (brief comments on why certain poems in the anthology are defined as odes, pastorals, or elegies, for example), the bottom line is that The Making of a Poem does an excellent job of taking the inexperienced reader inside the mystery of poetic form. In these terms the volume succeeds, giving us a way into the history of poetry, along with an excellent anthology as a starting point for a deeper exploration of the glories of the genre. --Doug Thorpe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

If example is the best teacher, than students new to traditional poetic forms can learn much from this collection of villanelles, sestinas, sonnets, elegies, pastorals, ballads, pantoums, odes, and other familiar structures that have shaped English poetry since Beowulf. Each chapter focuses on a single form, but explanatory material is kept to a minimum: a concise list of formal characteristics, a summary history, a short discussion of the form's contemporary context, and a brief "close up" on an individual poem. Most useful are the selections themselves, which illustrate how particular forms have been employed over time, from canonical classics by Chaucer, Shelley, and Elizabeth Bishop through newer pieces by Hayden Carruth, Michael Palmer, and Thylias Moss. The concluding section on open forms seems somewhat uncertain and conservative, barely straying from much of what precedes it, but that's to be expected given the tastes of the editors, each of whom provides a lively and personal introductory essay that young poets should find quite instructive.DFred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib. Ithaca, NY
Copyright 2000 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: Norton Anthology
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321784
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a must for anyone who loves formal poetry (sonnets, villanelles, pantoums e.t.c.). After decades of so called "free verse" the formal poem is making a come back. This book explains each form in detail, provides the history of the form and many of the best examples. A "close up" on each form tells about an individual poet who uses that form. It would make a perfect text for a course on formal poetry. In fact, the teacher that recommended it to me uses it in her college courses.
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64 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is about writing poetry. It is not about the content of a poem, it is about the formal structure. The authors compile descriptions of seven poetic forms (eight, if you count stanza as a form, as the authors inexplicably do) and three thematic categories. Following each description is a long list of examples of the forms, from the point when each form entered English up to... well, up to...

And that's where we run into the first problem with this book. There are good poets out there writing sonnets and sestinas today, but if the authors are to be believed, formal poetry came to a juddering halt when Robert Frost died. As a reader of poetry, I like Dylan Thomas, Robert Browning, and William Shakespeare, but if a student learning poetry uses this book as the yardstick of where these forms are right now, that student will at best be over forty years out of date.

That's not to suggest that the selections of poems in this book aren't good. They are. Not only do the compilers select the best poets of days gone by, but they select the best examples of the work of those poets. But the selection is slanted in favor of the past. To be really useful a book needs to include both a historical overview of a form and a synoptic look at where poetry lives right now.

Likewise, the selection of forms is brief. I like villanelles and ballads as much as the next guy, but would it really break the editors to dedicate a little more space to ghazals, cinquains, triolets, and haiku? The selection of forms in this book is very introductory, limited to the forms the editors could find in English in profusion. Perhaps somebody fairly new to poetry, who hasn't learned what the forms are and how they work, will find this collection useful.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on September 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book provides a good introduction to poetic forms such as the villanelle, sestina, or sonnet. Included is a description of the exact topology of the form, a history of the form, and the contemporary use of the form. The first or second poem under each chapter, usually follows the classic model of the form, and allowed me to understand the mechanics. The anthology of poems chronologically ranged from the classic (and who would dare discuss sonnets without including one from Shakespeare), to more modern poets as Gwendolyn Brooks. In most of the verse forms, there is a close-up view of one of the poets selected in that section, but for some reason that good idea was discontinued when discussing "shaping forms" (elegy, pastoral, and ode). The chapter on Meter is only two pages long, so it is disappointing that at least some examples weren't included here. The final section of "Open Forms" perhaps allows one to reach their own conclusions about the use of form, and what constitutes memorable poetry. No matter what, an appreciation of form should help your appreciation of poetry. I would have also appreciated a little more in depth analysis of a few of the poems to show how the form was used to convey the poet's message.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Etzel Jr. on January 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
There are many books about "what poetry is," especially in this time when Contemporary American poetry has taken off. This one is one of the best and should be included in all poetry collections. This book is the only one I have found that shows the poetic forms and their contemporary contexts (after all, free verse borrows from the forms). This book also joins the Contemporary and Modern poets with the Romantics, Classical, et al. Both Strand's and Boland's essays and views should be embraced for their insight and knowledge--did the negative reviewers actually read this book? The Making of a Poem is a treasure that acknowledges and celebrates poetry, moving past what the title implies.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By anglitorra on February 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book gives a brief history of a form, information on its construction, and follows these with examples of the form in use. The examples begin with older, classic poems in the form and are followed by more modern adaptations.

I have found more modern examples lacking in many of the books I have read on form. Seeing more recent examples helps illustrate the usefulness of form to the modern writer. It could also be extremely helpful to writers in adapting traditional forms to their own work.

The descriptions of the forms are terse, but quite adequate, assuming the reader already knows what an iamb is. The examples are well-chosen and varied. It gives a good basic understanding of the forms it discusses and would be a wonderful starting point for writing formed verse.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By L. Glaesemann on July 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered how poets organized their poems? If studying form makes a poem easier to understand, then this anthology is definitely for you. In college, I remember my English professors arguing that ideas are more substantive than the format, which, when one deconstructs the literary artifact, is ultimately correct. However, what I soon discovered for many of my beginning high school and college students was that their sole focus on content often discouraged the novice since he needed explicit examples of how past poets constructed their works.

I hear some people exclaiming that copying another poet's style likely will not get you published. Absolutely. You are one hundred percent correct. However, with so few Americans invested in poetry these days, we need to reexamine how we teach creative writing so that we can at least entice them into producing the written word that can stand as a living testament for the rest of their lives. Just telling the concrete-sequential or analytical thinker to just brainstorm ideas for a poem is likely doomed to fail. We can do better, and, with the format of this book, this is a real possibility.

The format of the book is broken down into common poetic forms such as the Villanelle, the Sestina, the Pantoum, the Sonnet, the Ballad, Blank Verse, the Heroic Couplet, the Stanza, the Elegy, the Pastoral, the Ode, and open forms such as Free Verse. For the experienced bard, I agree that the selection is limiting; you will not find any advanced contemporary poetic strategies to whet your appetite. However, Editors and Poets Mark Strand and Eavan Boland recognize their intended audience, and thus produce a format commiserate for them.
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