This week’s New Title Tuesday recommendation responds to the question too often asked by students from middle school to college. In Why Poetry Matthew Zapruder addresses, as he says, “the necessity of poetry: why it matters, and how in personal and public spheres poetry might be able to help us live our lives.”
In Why Poetry, award-winning poet Matthew Zapruder takes on what it is that poetry—and poetry alone—can do. Zapruder argues that the way we have been taught to read poetry is the very thing that prevents us from enjoying it. In lively, lilting prose, he shows us how that misunderstanding interferes with our direct experience of poetry and creates the sense of confusion or inadequacy that many of us feel when faced with it.
Zapruder explores what poems are, and how we can read them, so that we can, as Whitman wrote, “possess the origin of all poems,” without the aid of any teacher or expert. Most important, he asks how reading poetry can help us to lead our lives with greater meaning and purpose.
Anchored in poetic analysis and steered through Zapruder’s personal experience of coming to the form, Why Poetry is engaging and conversational, even as it makes a passionate argument for the necessity of poetry in an age when information is constantly being mistaken for knowledge. While he provides a simple reading method for approaching poems and illuminates concepts like associative movement, metaphor, and negative capability, Zapruder explicitly confronts the obstacles that readers face when they encounter poetry to show us that poetry can be read, and enjoyed, by anyone.
Zapruder, like many anxious students, had no background in poets or poetry when he first discovered a poem that grabbed his attention, W. H. Auden’s”Musee des Beaux Arts.” But that didn’t launch him into a life-long pursuit of verse. In fact, he was in his twenties before he started to write creatively. He wrote of those early days that he was “interested in doing more than just playing around. I wanted to take words and build them into larger structures that would do something, something exciting, powerful, even useful. I didn’t know now t do this. But I did know the feeling I got when I searched out, and found, poems that I loved.”
Not having a formal education in poetry, he simply began to read more and more poems. The lesson he learned was that, “the energy of poetry comes primarily from the reanimation and reactivation of the language that we recognize and know.” But prose does that too, right? What makes poetry unique?
In Why Poetry Zapruder concludes that “poetry has its own special role, distinct from all other uses of language.” He wrote a good poem has movement. “The drifting, associating, linking experience that poetry creates is central to the way it makes meaning.” Poetry makes meaning by “revealing hidden connections.”
Zapruder provides numerous discussions of poems and poets to illustrate that only in poetry can a writer fully explore the outer limits of imagination. That is reason enough to read Why Poetry. From Sappho to Emily Dickinson to Tomaz Salamun to Jorge Carrera Andrade and many more, Zapruder shares his way of looking at poems that does not include solving a cryptic mystery but a refreshing and enthusiastic love of the freedom the form provides.
Take a break and enjoy the literal as well as the dreamscape that is poetry.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also By Zapruder:
Come On All You Ghosts – Editor, translator, and winner of the William Carlos Williams Award, Matthew Zapruder in his third book blends humor and invention with love and loss, as when the breath of a lover is compared to “a field of titanium gravestones / growing warmer in the sun.” The title poem is an elegy for heroes and mentors—from David Foster Wallace to Zapruder’s father—and demonstrates a new, expansive range for the poet, highlighting as well a larger body of poetry that is surprising and direct: writing that wrestles with the desires to live rightly, to make art, and to confront the vast events of the day.
Great poets and poems:
The Oxford book of American poetry / chosen and edited by David Lehman ; associate editor, John Brehm. This collection redefines the great canon of American poetry from its origins in the 17th century right up to the present. It features the work of more than 200 poets, almost three times as many as the 1976 edition. The book includes not only writers born since the previous edition, but also many fine poets overlooked in earlier editions or little known in the past but highly deserving of attention. Many more women and African-American poets are represented, and unexpected figures such as the musicians Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Robert Johnson have a place.–From publisher description.
Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Mabel Loomis, et al. – Emily Dickinson was a prolific writer and yet, with the exception of four poems in a limited regional volume, her poems were never published during her lifetime. It was indeed fortunate that her sister discovered the poems—all loosely bound in bundles—shortly after Dickinson died.
Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson is the complete collection of the first three volumes of poetry published posthumously in 1890, 1891, and 1896 by editors Mary Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The volumes were all received with high acclaim and contain some of her best-known poems. It was in the twentieth century, however, that Dickinson was finally recognized as one of the great poets and, without dispute, the most popular.
This collection redefines the great canon of American poetry from its origins in the 17th century right up to the present. It features the work of more than 200 poets, almost three times as many as the 1976 edition. The book includes not only writers born since the previous edition, but also many fine poets overlooked in earlier editions or little known in the past but highly deserving of attention. Many more women and African-American poets are represented, and unexpected figures such as the musicians Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Robert Johnson have a place.–From publisher description.