Monday, January 28, 2019

What Is Poetry?

What is Poetry? The Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems. Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Jill Calder. 2019. Candlewick Press. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the introduction: Poetry belongs to all of us; everyone can read poems, make up poems, or share poems with others.

First sentence from chapter one: A poem is a poem if the writer and the reader agree it's a poem. But people don't always agree, and when they argue about it, they try to find some special things about poetry that you can't find in other kinds of writing.

Premise/plot: This lovely little book is divided into seven chapters: "What Is Poetry?", "What Can You Do With a Poem?", "My Thoughts as I Was Writing Some Poems," "Ways To Start A Poem," "Writing Poems," "Some Technical Points About Poems," "So What Is Poetry?".

The first chapter should really be named "What Can Poetry Do?" Rosen sets out to illustrate what poems can do. It's show and tell time with poetry. He'll introduce a poem--often a classic--and then write out the thinking process as it's read and reread. He showcases a poem for each point.
  • Poetry Can Suggest Things
  • Poetry Can Give an Impression
  • Poetry Can Play with Words
  • Poetry Can Be Symbolic
  • Poetry Can Be Personal
  • Poetry Can Borrow Voices
  • Poetry Can Capture A Moment
  • Poetry Can Be Ironic
  • Poetry Can Make New Sense
  • Poetry Can Make Familiar Things Feel Unfamiliar and Unfamiliar Things Feel Familiar
Perhaps the list isn't exhausting or comprehensive. But it's a great beginning.

The second chapter is just as valuable and practical as the first. It asks not 'What Can Poetry Do?' but 'What can YOU do with a Poem?' He begins with the obvious, 'read it,' but the list is longer than you might think. I love what he has to say about memorizing poems:
"People say that it's important to memorize poems. I think differently. I reckon it's important only when it's important to you. So if you love a poem, you might want to learn it by heart." (83)
I also love his conclusion:
"In fact, you can do anything you want with a poem. You can ignore it, forget it, decide you don't like it--or leave it for fifty years and rediscover it later." (88)
If chapter one gives readers a behind the scenes glimpse of how Rosen reads poems, then chapter three gives readers a behind the scenes glimpse of how Rosen WRITES poems. He shares one of his own poems and then shares his thoughts on the writing of it.

Chapters four and five are about WRITING poems--some tips and suggestions on how readers can write their own poems.

Chapter six includes some 'technical' details about poems. A traditional approach to teaching poetry might have started with this chapter. Rhythm and Rhyme. Alliteration. Assonance. Metaphor. Simile. Metonymy. Personification. Persona. Allusion.

Chapter seven is BLANK essentially. It gives readers blank pages to answer the question for themselves...what is poetry?

My thoughts: I really thought this was a great little introduction to a subject often thought to be super-intimidating. Poetry doesn't have to be intimidating, overwhelming, scary. Poetry can be FUN, delightful, memorable. I love how we get to see poetry from all sides. I really loved some of the chapters. I can't say that I loved all the chapters equally. Some of his examples were a bit difficult to understand. BUT Rosen gives his readers permission to not understand, to dislike or hate, to skip.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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