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Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry Hardcover – 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Beautiful and Pointless holds a mirror up to the poetry world itself. Orr starts from a brilliantly accurate characterization of what it feels like to read a poem, which should be up on the wall in every high school English classroom.” (Slate)

“With Beautiful & Pointless, Orr mingles humor with analysis in a way that should provide fodder for novices and academics in equal measure.” (The Onion)

“A passionate, nimble little book.” (David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review)

“Equal parts friendly invitation for the uninitiated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry for the uninitiated and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene. . . . The book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“David Orr is an authentic iconoclast. His criticism is exuberant and original. Dr. Johnson, my critical hero, urged us to clear our mind of cant. Orr has cleared his. He will enhance the perception of his readers. And he wins my heart by his love for Edward Lear.” (Harold Bloom)

Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar.” (Tom Perrotta)

“David Orr reminds us that poetry is an ancient and living art, a robust American art, and not a commodity or vehicle for self-expression, social betterment, or career enhancement. He argues his case with passion, eloquence, erudition and good sense - and, as is his custom, not a little moxy.” (August Kleinzahler)

“A short, lively guidebook. . . . With informal spirit and playful wit, Orr invites readers to disagree with him. . . . He comes across as an engaged, discriminating reader-critic concerned with examining rather than selling us a product.” (William H. Pritchard, Commonweal) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Review

“David Orr is an authentic iconoclast. His criticism is exuberant and original. Dr. Johnson, my critical hero, urged us to clear our mind of cant. Orr has cleared his. He will enhance the perception of his readers. And he wins my heart by his love for Edward Lear.”—Harold Bloom


“David Orr reminds us that poetry is an ancient and living art, a robust American art, and not a commodity or vehicle for self-expression, social betterment, or career enhancement. He argues his case with passion, eloquence, erudition and good sense - and, as is his custom, not a little moxy.”—August Kleinzahler

'Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar.”—Tom Perrotta


“Equal parts friendly invitation for the uninitiated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry for the uninitiated and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene. . . . The book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


“A passionate, nimble little book.”—David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins; First Edition edition (2011)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A1AE4H4
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,223,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First off, BEAUTIFUL & POINTLESS is a fine title, and David Orr is a witty author. He brings a sense of brio and humor to his task, but he doesn't accomplish what he sets out to -- namely, to write a poetry book that Everyman can read and enjoy. Meaning? You're probably not going to get through this book, brief as it is, unless you a.) read poetry already, or b.) are a poet already.

Why? For one, Orr dives into such niche-specific subject matter as poetic forms, poetic "giants" (who deserves to be famous, who doesn't), and, most insider of all, poetic cliques of academia. I suppose you could argue that the last is important enough to get its own chapter, but most people would simply shrug and say, "Who cares -- do I really want to read about insider fighting among poets whose names I've never heard of and never will?" (Rhetorical question, of course.) Personally, I was not surprised that academia has affected (infected?) poetry-writing the way MFA programs have given us a "Writers' Workshop" style of novel, complete with scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours blurbs of adoration from one novelist to another (the teacher or a classmate, usually). It comes as no surprise that the same is true of university poetry departments. After all, from corporate drawing rooms to middle school cafeterias, this is how the world works. I would have preferred to learn more about modern poets who are possibly the next Elizabeth Bishops or Robert Frosts, about techniques in favor and out, about, finally, what Everyman actually reads and why.

A little of that drifts in toward the end in the final chapter, "why bother?", which I found the strongest.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a delightful little book - you can get halfway through while waiting for your car to be repaired and count it as a useful afternoon. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that the book achieves it's goal. This is a book that you could easily see chapters as having been essays in the New York Times Book Review. You can see the NYT Book Reviews readers (including myself) saying "that is well written", "that is an interesting perspective", "I need to keep an eye out for reviews by Orr".

However, David Orr intends to expand the reader pool for modern poetry. To a large extent his non-technical introduction should achieve that end. His division of form into metrical, resemblance, and mechanical provides an excellent framework - especially giving the mechanical (think Oulipo)poetry a place to fit. However, the majority of the poets he selects are poets-of-academia (poets you are assigned to read, not discover by word of mouth). To add to the "insult" he makes reference to poets and poems without including them, leaving the reader to (a) look it up online or (b) feel they've missed the point. In his discussion of political poetry we meet Brooks, Auden and Ryan ... but not the names that come to my mind when considering political poetry - Ginzberg, Forche, Levertov ... Perhaps I expected too broad a definition of "Modern Poetry" but Orr did not meet my expectations.

However, if you read poetry journals or wish to read poetry journals or even wish to pretend to read poetry journals, Orr provides some excellent insights into modern poetry and it well worth your time.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author protests a great deal, almost too much, about the reading of poetry and his intent to write for an average reader, an occasional reader, a sometimes reader of modern poetry. He covers the bases... from poetry as personal to poetry as some sort of post-structural semiotic war amongst the critics of academia. Along the way, his prose is very fun to read, and I started to think that this guy could write a great book about how to tie knots, or how to spackle a wall, he is that good.

Helping the reading of poetry by the non-poets of the world (and to some academic poets this group is already a group of out-group losers) -- this is a worthy goal, a hard task. As he went through lines of poems as examples, I could see what he was trying to say, hear it in the words read aloud, understand the playing field.

This is a unique book, sort of a guide to a lost continent, and it is just charming. There were times I thought the author had a touch too much self-confidence, but some of the poems he brings to clarity require such. Just a good book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A couple of years ago, during the scandal involving South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, I wrote a light-hearted, satirical sonnet about the issue and posted it on my Facebook page. (It's still there among the notes:[...]) One of my more formalist oriented Facebook friends commented "Hope your kid did this, for it is not in any sonnet form I have ever seen." We went back and forth a few times about just what exactly a sonnet is, and I agreed to change the title from "Sonnet on the Sanford Affair" to "Seven irregular couplets on the irregular coupling of Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress featuring iambs, dactyls and anapests." My friend appreciated this change because she felt it "incorporates [the poem's] faults with irony."

I mention this in connection with David Orr's bright and lively, though unfortunately titled, new book, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry. Orr writes a regular poetry column for the New York Times Book Review, a role that makes him de facto probably America's most influential critic of contemporary poetry (at least for the general reader, if not for academe). I wish I had had Orr's book at the time of the Sanford affair to buttress my contention that the sonnet form is flexible, not rigid, and there are lots of different ways to arrange 14 or so lines and still have a sonnet resulting from the arrangement. Orr talks about three different kinds of poetic form: metrical form, resemblance form, and mechanical form, and the mid point between metrical and mechanical (resemblance) is by far the most interesting of these.
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