“Poetry lasts because it gives the ambiguous and ever-changing pleasure of being both a statement and a song.”
Poet Kenneth Koch has written a book about reading and writing poetry that anyone can understand. His fresh perspective simplifies even the most challenging of poetic ideas and structures, creating an every-man’s explanation out of a sometimes mysterious genre.
Koch touches on everything from how the sounds within a word create a song, a melody that the poet brings forth, to the meter and rhyme that creates flow. He uses poems as examples- how Wallace Stevens’ “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” possesses a bouncy music due to its close-together alliteration and the bouncy rhyme, how Queen Elizabeth I’s poem “When I Was Fair and Young” has an “admirable sprightliness” to its subject of political power, how Rainer Maria Rilke gave amazing life to paintings and statues through his poems. Koch explains how these poets create these poems and how the reader, too, can create poems of such depth, width, and berth, or as simple and plaintive.
Koch has a gift for making his reader feel like he/she can understand any poem, and not just that, but CREATE any poem that they desire.
The latter half of the book is filled with an anthology of poems. The anthology is not meant to be inclusive or representative of poetry, Koch explains, but more to serve as illustrations for the explanations and discussions included in the proceeding chapters. So you may not find your favorite poems, and they will not always be the most famous poems, but you will find poems that demonstrate the rich and complex variety that are out in the world to read, enjoy, and learn from.
I myself -hand copied pages and pages of notes from the library book so that I could revisit the wisdom it contains even after I have returned the book for other patrons to peruse.
If you are a fan of poetry, and ESPECIALLY if you find poetry daunting, this book will serve as a light to help you understand its mysteries more than you do now. I really recommend it.
“Poets think of how they want something to sound as much as they think of what they want to say.” (pg. 20)
“Valery said a work of art was never finished, it was abandoned. No one would say, however, that Valery’s poems looked lost or incomplete; he knew when it was safe to leave them.” (pg. 93)
“Read in the right way, poetry is a rich source of pleasure, knowledge, and experience. Not knowing poetry is an impoverishment of life such as not knowing music or painting would be, or not traveling.” (pg. 111)