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The Art of the Poetic Line

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1555974886
ISBN-10: 1555974880
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A much-admired academic critic and poet, Longenbach (Draft of a Letter) contributes to this useful new series of pocket-sized writing guides with clear, swift prose that explains how poets have thought about kinds of lines; how the line, or the idea of the line, distinguishes poetry (even prose poetry) from ordinary prose; how reference to dramatic verse (especially Shakespeare's) can help us think about verse lines on the page; and how the kinds of line he identifies—the end-stopped (punctuated) line, the parsing line (which follows a phrase's syntax), and the annotating line (which works against it)—combine to make memorable modern poems. A set of examples from William Carlos Williams demonstrate how Williams's freewheeling prose let him evolve from less interesting to more powerful versions of free verse. Passages from Marianne Moore, C.D. Wright, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound and Frank Bidart also receive incisive comment. No particular line, Longenbach writes, needs to be championed at the expense of other kinds. He tries hard—some may think too hard—not to lose any beginners: the result is a short book that could be useful in college and high school courses, while also appealing to general poetry readers. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

James Longenbach is the author of three poetry collections, including Draft of a Letter; five works of criticism, including The Resistance to Poetry, as well as numerous essays and reviews. He is Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester.

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Product Details

  • Series: Art of...
  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555974880
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555974886
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Poet and literary critic James Longenbach presents The Art Of The Poetic Line, a discussion of the function of the line in metered, rhymed, syllabic, and free-verse poetry. Drawing upon classic examples ranging from Shakespeare and Milton to Ashbery and Gluck, The Art of the Poetic Line demystifies ambiguous elements in creating poetry to evoke mood and experience. "Poems are poems because we want to listen to them. Some poems have a prominent argument; some poems don't. But all poems live or die on their capacity to lure us from their beginning to their ends by a pattern of sounds. This is why a poem we don't understand may seem wonderfully satisfying, and this is why a poem we understand all too well may also seem wonderfully satisfying. A poem may harness the power of meter, rhyme, syntax, and line to establish and disrupt a pattern of sounds, and a poem may with equal integrity reject the power of meter, rhyme, syntax, and line. But the poet needs to understand what she is rejecting as well as what she is harnessing." Highly recommended for poetry connoisseurs, and an absolute must-read for poets and would-be poets of all walks of life.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Audrey C. Friedman on September 20, 2008
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How the topic of the poetic line caused angst for the first years of my serious attempts at reading and writing poetry. Longenbach's straghtforward and smart treatise on this topic would have saved me much distress. This book will be as helpful for the beginner as for the accomplished poet or MFA student. Thanks, Mr. Longenbach. This book will be within easy reach as I know I'll revisit it many more times!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Frances Haas on June 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Mr. Longenbach manages to explain poetic terms in ways I could understand, and I have read many poets/editors on how to write poetry. He presents a good discussion on why we should keep poetic structures by showing the power of the structured rhymes. These selections are not Hallmark type verses, but finely wrought poems which stick in the mind. He explains the value of sound in composition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ricardo Munoz on December 25, 2012
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Longenbach takes a pragmatic approach towards understanding how and why line breaks work as prosody.
I say this because I read many poems where author appears to use breaks for no apparent reason. This is especially problematic when the written intention of the break doesn't seem to have anything to do with the performance intention. Longenbach give many points on how to help the poem achieve an authorial intention that matches voice and print,
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Excellent book on the poetic line and it's variations. It also gives a casual reader of poetry insight into how to read a poem with many examples. I recommend this book for young beginning poets as well as those who have been writing for a longtime that have never been in a workshop class. A lot of people do not know how to read a poem which I believe derives from teachers instructions from grades 6 through 12 suggesting that students read a poem line by line, hesitating into the next line. That is fine for early grades 6 and 8, but once a student reaches 9th grade and up, they are introduced to more complex forms and not the poetry they encountered before. How to read a poem begins with recitation and much relies on the line and how a poet choose to break the line (Robert Duncan, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson) or play with space (e.e. cummings) or lack of space (as in Whitman's long lines). Teachers themselves mostly for the lack or dislike do not like teaching poetry for having the same education that didn't teach them to read poem correctly. I myself have friends who don't or can't read a poem correctly and thus don't get a poem. So I have taken it upon myself to show them how to read a poem aloud and show them the cues that are found in grammar, punctuation, and mostly the sound. I can say they now can enjoy poetry a bit more than before; though, its not their choice to read. Yet sometimes I show them or give them poems to read that I enjoy and am delighted in their reaction.

This book is a must for students in early high school through to the first few years of college. It doesn't matter when its introduced as long as it is. Longenbach begins with an example from Shakespeare's King Lear, showing variations on how the play is presented to modern students.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. D. Geiss on August 23, 2013
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The title I've used here is taken from sport.

In football the teams line up against each other, offense v defense. Choices of where to put the players abound. Will your line be balanced or unbalanced? Will you use wingbacks or slot receivers or two tight ends, one back or empty backfield? Will you play a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense? Two deep zones or man to man? Each line up lets you do certain things better than other things and much depends on your intent, how it is you want to play the game.

In rugby, they have line outs. The ball is put into play by one side throwing it down a line of essentially alternating players from the two teams. How high and how far down the line you throw it determines who gets the ball and what can be done with it.

The line in poetry has similar effects. You can do some things better than others with certain kinds of lines than others and how far down the line you throw the accent, the crux of your syntax, determines whether the play works well or perhaps not so well. James Longenbach shows you that and explains why the various choices work the way they do.

Longenbach's own prose is clear and concise (not always true with poets writing prose). He uses multiple examples, some well known others not so much, to illustrate the various choices made by different poets regarding the lineation of various poems. If you want to write better yourself or just have a deeper and better appreciation of poems you read, this little book will help. For me, reading this has led me to revalue Williams Calos Williams and to discover George Oppen entirely.

I should note that the 4 star rating has to do with the fact that I purchased this with the two other "Art Of" books it is offered with on this page (Syntax and Description) and I felt the need to differentiate the two I liked a lot from the one I loved. Highly recommended.
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