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The Secret of Poetry Paperback – April 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The religious poem of a believer has a quality of conviction that still resonates with extraordinary power, especially when one considers the poet has taken to witness, in effect, in a poetic mode that has passed out of fashion." Those who consider the bucking of such trends to be The Secret of Poetry will find Mark Jarman's essays and reviews of value. Jarman, who took up the fate of religious verse poetically in Questions for Ecclesiastes and Unholy Sonnets, here collects his prose statements on the matter and other poetic questions, along with his assessments of contemporaries like Jorie Graham, Andrew Hudgins, David Lehman and Alice Fulton, and of canonical and near-canonical figures from a multitude of eras.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

American thinking is best summed up by William James's pragmatism, says prize-winning poet Jarman (Questions for Ecclesiastes; English, Vanderbilt Univ.). So, he argues, Modernist masters like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams tend to be pragmatic to the core, and such living poets as Charles Wright, C.K. Williams, and Philip Levine also give their readers "the fact of finitude, that sense of the nothingness beyond that [which] gives our lives dignity and meaning." All poetry hides something, in other words, but the secret in American poetry must always be revealed in "undeniable terms," as in poet Jon Anderson's assertion that "The secret of poetry is cruelty," a line Jarman praises as "bracing, honest, exact, and meant in its context to cut through stock responses to death and love." Among Jarman's favorite poets are those he calls "the three Rs": Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Robinson Jeffers, creators, respectively, of the short, medium, and long narrative poem on which today's narrative poets model their work. Half of his book is devoted to wide-ranging essays, while the rest consists of reviews containing startling insights into the work of such contemporaries as John Ashbery and Jorie Graham. There is also a wistful piece on his attempt to teach critical theory from Roland Barthes's Saussurean demythologizing of contemporary bourgeois myths to the "sublime baloney" of Stanley Fish's reader-response theory to working-class students to whom political freedom is more germane. Taking his own advice, Jarman is nothing if not specific in his writing and thinking. To him, the secret of good criticism is a sense of history and of context, of knowing where poems come from and how poets read each other. David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Story Line Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158654005X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586540050
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,593,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
I found Mark Jarman's book of essays, _The Secret of Poetry_, to be very rewarding, both in the actual experience of reading the book and in the essays' tendency to resonate in my mind since then. The book is one of those gems in which literary analysis becomes not only intellectually interesting and informative, but enjoyable as well. Jarman's ability to find new, relevant issues in the writing of prominent poets and his insightful exploration of his subject matter help to give this book the weight of genuine importance that so many books ultimately do not have. Fans of Jarman's poetry will recognize his characteristic wit in surprising (and often delightfully subtle) moments in this collection of prose. Although I had read poems by most of the writers to whom Jarman refers, there were also many times in which Jarman referenced either specific poems or poets I was not familiar with. I was pleasantly surprised that I still felt engaged when reading essays that dealt with works unfamiliar to me. Jarman must have a talent for precisely contextualizing poems and poets, because I was not left feeling lost; in fact, I have found that the essays made certain writings seem so intriguing that I have felt compelled to read several of them since then. For me, the most unique aspect of _The Secret of Poetry_ is how it offers so many potential secrets of poetry. This aspect makes it feel like Jarman is inviting the reader along on a search rather than simply stating his own conclusions. Although Jarman frankly gives his own opinions about what the secret of poetry may be, there is also a definite sense that he wants his readers to consider the question on their own.
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