The Poem Is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them

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I love poetry: rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, word play, classical allusions. Of course, this familiar concept of poetry largely limits me to old traditional poetry and children’s poetry. Most contemporary poetry breaks all the rules I know and understand, and I feel like I’m left on the sidelines, wondering what happened. It’s always seemed like a lack on my part—how could I even approach a poem that breaks every rule I know? So I was drawn by this book’s promise to share “how to read” the poems.

I was probably hoping for more concrete and transferable help. What the author provides is more specific to each individual poem. Each of the sixty poems in the book is followed by an essay which may cover cultural context, the poet’s background, specific style, or a line-by-line exposition. Rereading each poem after the essay inevitably resulted in a greater understanding (though that was no guarantee I would like it any better—I still prefer the simpler, more traditional forms). I’m afraid that without a detailed explanation, I still may not know how to approach another contemporary poem. But it makes me more willing to try, and in that sense it is a success.


Reviewed By:

Author Stephen Burt
Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 432 pages
Publisher Harvard University Press
Publish Date 2016-Sep-12
ISBN 9780674737877
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue January 2017
Category Poetry & Short Stories
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