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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

4.7 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1592402489
ISBN-10: 1592402488
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this delightfully erudite, charming and soundly pedagogical guide to poetic form, British actor (narrator of the Harry Potter movies, among other roles), novelist and secret poet Fry leads the reader through a series of lessons on meter, rhythm, rhyme and stanza length and reveals the structural logic of every imaginable poetic form, including the haiku, the ballad, the ode and the sonnet. Writing poetry, like any hobby, should be fun, Fry claims, and while talent is inborn, technique can be learned. Inviting readers to study the wealth of choices of form available in the world's major poetic traditions, Fry himself pens intentionally vapid yet entertaining poems that demonstrate each form's rules and patterning, and ends each lesson with wittily devised exercises for readers. Fry rails against the dumbing down of verse in a section subtitled "Stephen gets all cross": "It is as if we have been encouraged to believe that form is a kind of fascism and that to acquire knowledge is to drive a jackboot into the face of those poor souls who are too incurious, dull-witted or idle to find out what poetry can be." Fry has created an invaluable and highly enjoyable reference book on poetic form, which deserves to achieve widespread academic adoption, despite or even because of its saucy and Anglocentric tone. (Aug. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The author, a noted novelist, comedian, and actor, doubts his new book will make it onto school curricula, and that's a shame. Of all the poetry guides you're likely to read (and there are a ton of them out there), this one's probably the most entertainingly written and downright useful. The book is full of technical terms--spondee, enjambment, trochee--but these are explained so cleverly and so clearly that we very quickly can use them as though we've been doing so all our lives. The book is an education not only in the mechanics of poetry but also in its history. And, naturally, it's full to bursting with the author's delightfully impish wit: "The above," he writes at one point, "is precisely the kind of worthless arse-dribble I am forced to read whenever I agree to judge a poetry competition." Fry's legion of fans will get an enormous kick out of it, and English-lit students will learn more from this one book than they will from a stack of more traditional textbooks. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (August 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592402488
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592402489
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There was a fine fellow named Fry...who has here given the world a very funny (at times downright filthy), knowledgeable, reliable and, I would say, unique volume about the art & craft of writing poetry. I know Fry`s erudition & relentless wit can put off some people (mostly English ones - how we suspect success and excellence in this fearful country!) but I forgive the man his exuberant excesses and prefer to celebrate him as a generous-spirited Good Thing.
If you have never written a poem in your life, or you are a little afraid to, or want some encouragement, or wish to find out more about the mechanics of `prosody`, or are, indeed, already happily writing poems galore - this book is for you. Find out what a `foot` is; the difference between a Shakespearean & Petrarchan sonnet; and what in Heaven`s name is a spondee? Fry gives (often hilarious) examples of his own, and sets `exercises` at the end of each chapter. Mildly avuncular & user-friendly, without dumbing down.
My only quibble is his misunderstanding of what a haiku really is. He admits his ignorance of the intricacies of the more `exotic` verse forms, but it`s a shame he has given such poor, not to say inaccurate, examples of haiku - especially since the Guardian`s onetime haiku competition daily printed efforts by readers which utterly ignored the `break` necessary between the second & third lines. If you`re going to call something a haiku, at least have the politeness to find out what it is - and isn`t - to begin with! (Bete noir got off chest.)
This is Fry at his best. Long may he prosper until the sad but inevitable day when flights of chubby, pink-bottomed angels sing him to his well-earned rest.
Hey, that last paragraph rhymed - even if it didn`t scan.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of my favorite quotes about poetry is from Dame Edith Sitwell. "Poetry is like horticulture," she said. "Each poem should be allowed to grow according to its natural form." In his new book, "The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within," Stephen Fry creates a veritable topiary garden of poetry, providing not only an encyclopedic overview of poetic meters and forms in English but a cogent, bracing and witty demonstration of their value. As its subtitle suggests, "The Ode Less Travelled" is written as a primer to both beginning and experienced poets who need, shall we say, a jump start to their creativity. Each chapter offers a discussion, with examples, of a particular meter, rhyme scheme or form, and suggests exercises at the end for readers to create their own examples. Fry quotes English poets from William Shakespeare to William McGonagall to illustrate his points, as well as a gratifyingly large array of American poets. Sometimes, when an example from the canon is not readily available, Fry will write his own, such as when he illustrates a dactyl (one stressed syllable, two non-stressed) followed by a molossus (three sharply stressed syllables in a row) in an imagined argument between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader:

Why do you bother me? Go to Hell!

I am your destiny. Can't you tell?

You're not my father. Eat my shorts!

Come to the dark side. Feel the force!

Fry--a renowned writer, actor, director, wit and polymath--brings all his Cambridge erudition to "The Ode Less Travelled," combined with the passion of a man who cares to the depth of his soul about language and his possibilities.
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Format: Paperback
Whether writing poetry is curse or gift, the cat is out of the bag: the most unexpected people write poetry. It is Stephen Fry's intention to unveil the mystery, which he does with enthusiasm in chapters addressing Metre, Rhyme, Form, and Diction and Poetics Today, a daunting task by any measure; Fry approaches his topic with an attention to the details that often overwhelm would-be poets, for example the unusual jargon and technical vocabulary that accompanies a serious discussion of poetry. Anticipating a reluctance to dive right in, Fry offers three golden rules: take your time ("you can never read a poem too slowly, but you can certainly read one too fast!"); avoid over-thinking what you are reading ("poems are not crossword puzzles"); and invest in a notebook to carry everywhere, the only equipment necessary. Thus prepared, the journey begins, Fry the experienced guide.

The chapter on metre is expansive, a thorough dissection of rhythm, pentameter, beats per line, each section followed by a helpful poetry exercise to bring each example home. The question, to rhyme or not to rhyme, includes the inherent problems and advantages to the rhyme-inclined. More advanced is the how and why of form, the stanza and its variations, the ballad, heroic verse, ode, comic verse, haiku and the Mercedes of serious poetry, the sonnet. By far my favorite chapter addresses "The Doctrine of Poetic Diction". What is acceptable language? What are the obvious pitfalls? Most helpful, what are the particular vices a poet should avoid? We are reminded that laziness in a writer, poetry or otherwise, produces a plethora of subsets: sentimentality, vanity, self-indulgence, technical ineptitude and a lack of originality.
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