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The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide Paperback – September 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0374526177 ISBN-10: 0374526176 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374526176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374526177
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While it's hardly the most traveled of literary destinations, poetry has suffered from no shortage of guidebooks. Still, these poetic baedekers tend to get bogged down in terminology and historical hairsplitting, while the actual music gets lost in the shuffle. We should be thankful, then, for Robert Pinsky's brief, wonderfully readable volume, in which he zooms in on verse as acoustic artifact: "When I say to myself a poem by Emily Dickinson or George Herbert, the artist's medium is my breath. The reader's breath and hearing embody the poet's words. This makes the art physical, intimate, vocal, and individual."

Not that Poet Laureate Pinsky gets vague or touchy-feely on us. Poetry, like God, is in the details, and the author starts with the building blocks, the amino acids, of verse: accent and duration. Even the most jaded of readers will benefit from his syllable-by-syllable examination of Thomas Campion's "Now Winter Nights Enlarge" and Wallace Stevens's "Sunday Morning." Moving on through discussions of syntax and line, meter and rhyme (or lack thereof), Pinsky enlists both the usual suspects (Shakespeare, Frost, Hardy, Eliot, Bishop) and some less customary ones (Gilbert & Sullivan, Louise Gluck, and the splendid James McMichael) to make his points. These poems are, in some sense, teaching tools for the author. Yet even his on-the-fly commentary causes us to see them in a new light. Here he is, for example, on the near-monotonous minimalism of W.C. Williams's "To a Poor Old Woman": "The poem dramatizes the taking in of a supposedly ordinary experience, and the playful, almost hectoring repetitions are like an effective sermon in praise of simplicity." The Sounds of Poetry is no less effective a sermon. It leaves your ear (and your heart) attuned to the pleasurable play of poetic language and persuades you that hearing is, indeed, believing. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Though this book is written by a celebrated poet (the poet laureate of the Untied States), there is little to be gleaned from it. The work is organized in five chapters about the mechanics of poetry: accent, syntax, terms, chimes, and some notes on blank and free verse. This title, oddly written in a humorless, academic first person for the novice, tells us more about what Pinsky thinks than about the subtle merging of the oral and written craft of English verse. Perhaps straining to make the mysteries of poetry accessible, the passages define, advise, and recommend like a set of cobbled lecture notes. Better to stick with Alfred Corn's quality guide, The Poem's Heartbeat (LJ 4/1/97). Pinsky's endeavor is a disappointing enterprise.
-?Scott Hightower, NYU/Gallatin, New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Strongly recommend it for readers of all levels.
Amrit
If you are like me and have read poems before, and have felt the frustration in not being able to explain why they sound so wonderful, this book is for you.
John Dixon
Robert Pinsky's The Sounds of Poetry is an invaluable guide to the most critical--and one of the most neglected--aspects of poetic writing: sound.
Jordan M. Poss

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John Dixon on April 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have been a fairly big poetry fan for awhile now, but never have been able to pick up how subtle poetry really is. If you are like me and have read poems before, and have felt the frustration in not being able to explain why they sound so wonderful, this book is for you. For instance, who would have known that juxtaposing words with Germnaic and Latin roots can often produce a pleasing effect? Pinsky will allow you to pick up on this.
Some have said that Pinsky is dry and condescending in this work. It's true, Pinsky talks about poetry in a way devoid of all mysticism, but I think this no-nonesense and more objective approach is wonderful. Additionally, I don't see any actual condescension in the work. P's goal is not only to be simple, but also to show how misleading usual terminology can be. However, paradoxically, it is knowledge of what this terminology means and how it is useful, along with how Pinsky's ability to describe how subtle the sounds of poetry are that will teach you how to talk about poetry intelligently, if only with yourself.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By a reader in front of the front range on October 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Don't be deceived by the bad reviews you see from a few others here. What likely disappoints them about this book is its refusal to be useable, to give a method to read or write rhythm, to make illusory markings of beats or syllables. Far from reducing poetry to a scheme, Pinsky brings out the uniqueness of every line, every sounding of words together. He shows how the power of a poem involves tones and speeds and flows of sound played against subtle turns of syntax.

He shies away from neat categories of verse. Instead, he'll show marvels, such as iambic pentameters within Ginsberg's "Howl."

Not only can you learn about poetry here, but find such sentences as: "The emotion, the sexual horniness, produces an artifact of extravagant control." Rather than a book to pick up for practice or study, I found it was hard to put down.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark Forrester on March 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Too many poetry books (and teachers) approach meter as though it were a clearly defined binary system of equally stressed and equally unstressed syllables. Robert Pinsky is largely successful at showing how to appreciate the rich variety of sounds in the English language while avoiding a lot of technical terms and descriptions. It's important to keep in mind that this is not intended as an overview of the basics of poetry, but a "brief guide" to one aspect of how poetry works. He discusses rhythm and meter (including the effects of duration and pitch), rhyme and its variations, and blank and free verse. There were a few aspects of the book I didn't fully agree with. Pinsky treats all meter as variations of iambic. He includes some elements of word choice (particularly etymology) that are not convincingly related to sounds. And his tone is at times too simplistic - not condescending, exactly, but annoyingly dumbed down. However, this short book is well worth reading to get a poet's perspective on the importance of sound in verse.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By I X Key on April 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
for an appreciation of poetry. The sounds of poetry were one of the most important aspects of western poetry before Homer, when the sounds were integral pnemonics for poems to be remembered by many people in many places for long times. Homer's epics were known by rote for their sounds. Language's sounds & music are still one of the most important aspects of poetry today; I think they always will be. Poetics run deep, & with poetry so much is invested in the sounds. This is absolutely the best resource I know for a student of poetry to begin to develop an ear for poetry. To continue to develop it of course you need to care, & you need to read. Pinsky has been doing great services to poetry throughout his career as poet & scholar. I hope this review has been useful to you.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jordan M. Poss VINE VOICE on March 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Robert Pinsky's The Sounds of Poetry is an invaluable guide to the most critical--and one of the most neglected--aspects of poetic writing: sound. I first read this book when taking an undergrad poetry-writing course, and I found it immensely helpful.

Pinsky takes a great deal of potentially clunky, academic information and distills it into a fast, easily-digestible handbook. In just over 100 pages, he outlines the essentials of rhythm, meter, the meaning carried by sounds, and the interrelation of all three. For anyone who has read, studied, or written poetry before, there won't be much new here, but having so much good advice in such a concentrated form makes this little book an excellent read. Even several years after taking that course, I still find myself browsing this book, looking for helpful reminders and inspiration.

Pinsky's book is not only helpful and informative, it's a fast, fun read--it both delights and informs. Horace would be proud.

Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Applegate on December 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is obviously not the first book to explore poetry from an angle other than the meaning of its words -- for another example, see John Ciardi's "How Does a Poem Mean?". Nonetheless, it's a very readable discussion of one of the things that distinguishes poetry from prose -- the importance of how it sounds, either spoken aloud or spoken in the reader's mind. I love to read poetry, and this book has given me a new layer of understanding -- both of poems themselves and of what I enjoy about them.
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