In Don’t Read Poetry, award winning poet and literary critic Stephanie Burt offers an accessible introduction to the seemingly daunting task of reading, understanding, and appreciating poetry. She dispels preconceptions about poetry, explains how poems speak to one another, and how they can speak to our lives. It shows readers how to find more poems once they have some poems they like, and how to connect the poetry of the past to poetry of the present.
Unlike other guides, Burt does not approach poetry chronologically, or by school, form, or poet. Instead, her book moves through six reasons to read poetry. These include “feeling and attitude,” or how poems can embody, reflect, and share emotions, and “difficulty and frustration,” or how poets present us with problems and let us see the world anew. Each chapter explores the theme through the works of various poets and their histories. Burt moves seamlessly from the “classics” – Sappho, Wordsworth, Plath &c – to poetry circulated in Riot Grrrl fanzines or on Twitter. She challenges the assumptions that most people make about “poetry,” whether they think they like it or think they don’t (it’s all old; it’s all incomprehensible; it’s sappy, or soppy; it’s lovely; it’s uplifting; it’s good if it’s in the New Yorker; it can’t be good if it’s in the New Yorker) in order to help us cherish-and distinguish among-individual poems. If the book has one governing argument, it’s this: Don’t read “poetry”; read poems.
Burt seeks to fill a gap by providing a book that, while suitable for course adoption, is written for the average trade reader. Don’t Read Poetry stands apart from other books as well in the sheer range of forms considered (from aubades to zeugma-based, Twitter-friendly epigrams), and the timeline covered. For the first time, Burt will take full account of new styles of poetry from the past few decades-poetry dependent on the digital environment, for example, or on practices imported from gallery art, from radical social thought (CAConrad, or books from Ugly Duckling Presse), or the culture and language of Korean, and Native, and Chinese, and Latina/o/x, Americans, from Carter Revard to the current U.S Poet Laureate.
Destined to become a classic, Don’t Read Poetry is the perfect book for anyone confronting poetry for the first time, but also has much to teach the those fully immersed in the genre.