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The Virtues of Poetry Paperback – March 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“To search out excellence in poetry, or anything else, is to join a community, to rely on others for what we do not know, to invite others to rely on us.” Longenbach proves an able guide, outlining the methods of poetry and the poetic tradition. The author of four poetry collections and five previous books of criticism, he is less didactic in this volume, with aspects of a writing manual, than James Fenton is in his admirable An Introduction to English Poetry. In his preface, Longenbach introduces the terms each essay develops, focusing on work from the canon and from contemporary writers. Usinga simple, if unconventional, method to illustrate prosody, he discusses many elements, including subtle shifts of tense and mood. The essays can be read separately or in sequence. A close examination of Ezra Pound’s translations and Pisan Cantos; another of Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life”; a piece on the confessional aspects of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop; and “Writing Badly,” a curious but entertaining piece about the discursive element in the lyric, are the best of the 12. --Michael Autrey

Review

"[Longenbach] slices open poems with such grace, care and erudition that they aren't lessened by the dissection. . . . Predicated on the simple and elegant thesis that good poetry transcends trends, the book points to paired poetic 'virtues' like excess and restraint or compression and dilation, and then shows how they work in harmony to make poetry sing." (NPR)

"How can we ask our poets both for careful technique and for wild surprise? How can we even talk about poetry in general--how it works, what makes it good, how to read it--if the best poems stand apart from all rules, all programs? . . . Never too academic, Longenbach introduces not just great writers, but ways to think about them, ways to see how their works confront death, pursue self-doubt, and overcome their own initial limits." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

"[The Virtues of Poetry is a] rewarding guide that can help us all more fully read poetry and appreciate its intricacies and its 'virtues.'" (Shelf Awareness for Readers)

"[Longenbach is] interested, among other things, in the moment of takeoff, that moment when language ceases to be simply a vehicle for meaning and in a poem becomes something more like us: alive, always moving from discovery to discovery and anchored by an infinite, unplumbable hope. . . . These essays are, by turns, beautiful, witty and wise and in the end they'll (hopefully) leave you better equipped to experience and enjoy great poems." (Star Tribune (Minneapolis))

"Longenbach's own great stylistic virtue is lucidity; his writing educates without obfuscating or condescending. . . . Above all, Longenbach keeps faith with the mystery at the heart of poems as well as the intellect's attempts to pierce it." (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

"Like a man who takes clocks apart for the sheer joy of showing us the marvelous ways in which they work, James Longenbach displays a great talent for insightful close reading, a process through which he reveals the inner workings of a poem in ways that augment rather than diminish our wonder in reading it. . . . One of the chief virtues of [Longenbach's] new book is its inclusiveness. This is a book for both the serious poet and the serious critic, for both the initiate and the fully initiated, for both the adamantly classicist and the thoroughly modern." (World Literature Today)

"[The Virtues of Poetry] is a lovely, lilting ode to poetry. . . . This book teaches us, in the best way possible, how to read poetry, and it brings poems and poets alive in the process. . . . The Virtues of Poetry is like the primer on poetry you never had but always wanted." (Pleiades)

"These 12 essays . . . each unpack a poetic virtue--but not the ones your English teacher taught you to expect. . . . Longenbach's readings are wonderfully idiosyncratic." (Zocalo Public Square)

"[The Virtues of Poetry is] criticism at its best." (Washington Independent Review of Books)

"Virtues of Poetry offers an eminently enjoyable reading experience. Longenbach is a brilliant essayist and exquisite craftsman of prose. . . . For any lover of poetry and poetry's heros and heroines, for anyone interested in further sensitizing their response to language, the book's a quick snack. . . . Longenbach is upping the ante and setting the standard for smart, palatable criticism." (Sycamore Review)
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Product Details

  • Series: Poetry
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555976379
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By drjaye on May 5, 2013
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This is a must-read for anyone interested in writing poetry. James Longenbach writes lucid essays that, while grappling with complex subjects, are interesting and accessible. More than subjective meditations on poetry, these essays give the reader language to describe the experience of poetry, and, thus, a language to understand their own poetic voice and process. Illuminating and immensely enjoyable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By abe on December 31, 2013
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Longenbach has written a brief, very accessible, and well crafted opinion of the charms and virtues of poetry, with excellent references to specific poets and poems. I have read it twice and plan to reread several more times, as each reading reveals more to me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Bagg on September 2, 2013
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Longenbach reveals both the artistry and the deeper meanings of both familiar and novel poems. Equally valuable for poets, readers and scholars.
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