Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book: Shira Wolosky's The Art of Poetry

Image via Mountain Photogallery

There are few things more enjoyable than a good poetry guidebook. Sometimes the field of literary criticism seems aimed more at padding resumes than advancing thought, and the ponderous re-interpretation gets tiresome. However, I've just found a book of poetry interpretation that is a complete joy. Imagine being shown an incredible glittering mountain. Then being given the tools to climb it. Shira Wolosky's The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem is just such a Matterhorn moment.

I picked up The Art of Poetry yesterday at the New York Public Library. I've only just skimmed it and read the first chapter, but already have a tighter and more precise understanding of how to go about appreciating a poem. The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poemis organized incrementally. It starts with analyzing the most elemental part of a poem--words; and goes on through "Syntax and the Poetic Line", "Images: Smile and Metaphor", on to "Poetic Rhythm" until all elements of a poem have been covered and are seen as fitting into the whole.

Here is Wolosky on words and word placement (this is fabulous!): "In poetry there are multiple reasons for choosing and placing words. There is not one single pattern in a poem, but rather a multiplicity of patterns, all of which ideally interlock in wider and larger designs. There are in fact many designs on many levels, where each meaningful word and element points to the next one, in an endless process of imaginative possibility. These intricate patternings of poetry are what generate the essential nature of poetry: its intense figurative power, to always point beyond one meaning or possibility to further ones. (p.4)"

Wolosky then goes on to say that "This art of selecting words is called diction." (Yay! new word!) She looks at how the use of different levels of language, ranging from colloquial to esoterically philosophical, can be contrasted within a poem to surprising effect.

The Art of Poetry put to use: I want to pay more attention to the levels of language used around me. I want to listen to random fragments of speech on the subway, pay attention to how my Aunt discusses the merits of her adorable poodle, and see how newscasters on TV use language.

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