Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How To Read Poems

Basic. Jun. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780465094509. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780465094516. LIT
If good criticism opens windows and lets light in, and great criticism sheds a light of its own, Burt (English, Harvard Univ.; poetry coeditor, the Nation) is a solar-powered 1,000-watt bulb. The provocative title refers to the author’s theory that we don’t read “poetry” but rather specific and individual poems, her goal being to show readers how to do this more effectively. With insight and expertise, Burt illuminates the shadowy corners of this mysterious art, demonstrating time and again that there is nothing to fear! Six bountiful chapters introduce an array of poets (many contemporary) and offer tips on ways to approach poetry and why we should: poetry helps to make us better humans and broadens our awareness of a vast diversity of thought, bearing the timeless (and sometimes ineffable) wisdom of the world’s greatest minds: Homer, Sappho, Shakespeare, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Moore, Williams, Ammons, Oliver, and Youn (among them). Periodically, this reader wished Burt would have taken a breath and let us appreciate what she’s helped us see. And yet, her generosity, clarity, and open-hearted good sense triumph and may even draw in new readers to appreciate the skills of the literary critic.
VERDICT A wonderful guide to a misunderstood art. Essential for all libraries.
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