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An award-winning poet offers a brilliant introduction to the joys--and challenges--of the genre 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. Burt dispels preconceptions about poetry and explains how poems speak to one another--a An award-winning poet offers a brilliant introduction to the joys--and challenges--of the genre 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. Burt dispels preconceptions about poetry and explains how poems speak to one another--and how they can speak to our lives. She shows readers how to find more poems once they have some poems they like, and how to connect the poetry of the past to the poetry of the present. Burt moves seamlessly from Shakespeare and other classics to the contemporary poetry circulated on Tumblr and Twitter. She challenges the assumptions that many of us make about "poetry," whether we think we like it or think we don't, in order to help us cherish--and distinguish among--individual poems. A masterful guide to a sometimes confounding genre, Don't Read Poetry will instruct and delight ingénues and cognoscenti alike.


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An award-winning poet offers a brilliant introduction to the joys--and challenges--of the genre 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. Burt dispels preconceptions about poetry and explains how poems speak to one another--a An award-winning poet offers a brilliant introduction to the joys--and challenges--of the genre 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. Burt dispels preconceptions about poetry and explains how poems speak to one another--and how they can speak to our lives. She shows readers how to find more poems once they have some poems they like, and how to connect the poetry of the past to the poetry of the present. Burt moves seamlessly from Shakespeare and other classics to the contemporary poetry circulated on Tumblr and Twitter. She challenges the assumptions that many of us make about "poetry," whether we think we like it or think we don't, in order to help us cherish--and distinguish among--individual poems. A masterful guide to a sometimes confounding genre, Don't Read Poetry will instruct and delight ingénues and cognoscenti alike.

30 review for Don't Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hillary

    Don’t Read Poetry feels like a written long-form lecture from your favorite English professor, hip and approachable but still hoping you’ll learn something. It took me longer to read than expected because I found myself making reading lists – I wish it came with a textbook of all these poems in their full forms! My e-reader copy was not formatted perfectly, and sometimes it was hard to follow. I’d recommend checking how the book is formatted on your e-reader by downloading a sample before purchas Don’t Read Poetry feels like a written long-form lecture from your favorite English professor, hip and approachable but still hoping you’ll learn something. It took me longer to read than expected because I found myself making reading lists – I wish it came with a textbook of all these poems in their full forms! My e-reader copy was not formatted perfectly, and sometimes it was hard to follow. I’d recommend checking how the book is formatted on your e-reader by downloading a sample before purchasing. I think I’d rather have had a hard copy of this book for easy reference as well!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Gold

    I could tell you how much I love this book. Or I could just show you. I could tell you how much I love this book. Or I could just show you.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    As previously discussed in my review of The Hatred of Poetry , I struggle with reading poetry. So I was tantalized by the title of this book. The previous book was a gift from a fellow teacher friend whose feelings about poetry are a bit less ambivalent than mine. When I learned about Don’t Read Poetry, I thought it would be a good reciprocal gift to her. Stephanie Burt’s thesis is basically that we should avoid seeing poems as part of a monolithic form we call “poetry,” because it’s reductiv As previously discussed in my review of The Hatred of Poetry , I struggle with reading poetry. So I was tantalized by the title of this book. The previous book was a gift from a fellow teacher friend whose feelings about poetry are a bit less ambivalent than mine. When I learned about Don’t Read Poetry, I thought it would be a good reciprocal gift to her. Stephanie Burt’s thesis is basically that we should avoid seeing poems as part of a monolithic form we call “poetry,” because it’s reductive and far too slippery a concept to really grasp. Rather, she wants us to read poems themselves, and she takes us on a tour of various lenses for reading and understanding a poem. Her point is basically that we seldom mean that we hate all poems when we talk about hating poetry—there are some poems that mean a lot to us, even we don’t read poetry in general. And I definitely agree with that. The six lenses, corresponding to the six chapters of the book, are feelings, characters, forms, difficulty, wisdom, and community. Burt isn’t saying that every poem falls into one of these categories. Instead she suggests that we can use apply these lenses as and when we want to, although certain poems lend themselves better to different lenses. The surface meaning of each approach is fairly obvious, and I won’t provide a more detailed summary. What’s most valuable about this way of laying it out is that Burt can give us examples of specific poems and really isolate what about that poem is worth paying attention to. Indeed, the sheer number of poets and poems mentioned or featured in Don’t Read Poetry is at times overwhelming! Sometimes I wonder if my mild aphantasia contributes to my ambivalence about poetry. I have a lot of trouble visualizing when I read. I can’t picture characters or places in my head; I don’t see action as a cinematic experience like others apparently do. I just read the words and absorb the information as a narrative. Perhaps, then, this explains why poems—which are often vehicles for complex imagery—don’t often work for me. I can recognize and understand the figurative language, but it doesn’t always make that connection in my mind required to really tap into those feelings or that subtext. That being said, one of my personal realizations from reading this book is that there’s definitely more to my reticence than that. Burt discusses, for example, how different forms have come in and out of fashion cyclically over the years, plus new ones that get invented by innovators. And I thought about how maybe my emphasis on afferent reading is another reason I don’t feel connected to poems. Even when I’m reading a novel for entertainment, I’m reading the words so I can get to the story, which I construct in my brain. Style is usually secondary for me, and while I love it when I can luxuriate in someone’s writing, the story is always what I need first. So maybe that’s why poems often stymie me—I’m trying to look for meaning when first I should look at the poem itself as a thing, as a piece of art (some poems at least). This is probably why visual art does very little for me too…. I love that Burt consistently demonstrates why it’s so silly to define poetry in a restrictive way. Although she definitely has her own personal preferences when it comes to poems, she makes it clear that she considers pretty much anything that wants to be called a poem a poem. I appreciate this inclusiveness; it’s an attitude I wish were replicated in more English classes, which often seem to quash the spark of verse love from the souls of students in the same way that the words “Pythagorean theorem” quash the math love. Burt features some of the more familiar “canonical” poets throughout Western history. But she branches out into non-Western writers, and far more contemporary writers, and that makes this book so much more valuable. One question I have after reading this, then, would be how do we really critique poetry? At one point Burt mentions that people who don’t like a poem probably just don’t understand it, that the poem probably “just isn’t for them.” I understand and am sympathetic to this point, to a point. Yet I also think it’s valid to ask how we critique poetry, how we criticize it seriously, how we break it down and determine if a poem that is trying to be serious is in fact facile, or vice versa. None of this is really within the scope of Don’t Read Poetry, but it seems to be related. This book did not suddenly make me love poetry or even want to read more poems. But it definitely gave me a lot to think about. And Burt’s steady, methodical investigation into the mechanics and meaning of poems is competent and compelling, although sometimes dry a little too much for me to take in—this took me a long time to read, from my point of view. Nevertheless, I’d say I’m definitely the target audience: someone who fancies himself knowledgeable, especially in a literary sense, yet who feels like he’s missing out when it comes to understanding poems.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ann T

    Thank you Perseus Books and Netgalley for this ARC. I haven’t read much poetry since high school and over the past year or two I have been trying to read different forms as part of my reading habit. This book was perfectly timed for me. I have always shied away from poetry, but this helped me understand it’s forms and some it’s functions. I truly appreciate the time taken by Stephanie Burt to explain these in her book and I truly hope that the result it a lot more people enjoying poetry as part o Thank you Perseus Books and Netgalley for this ARC. I haven’t read much poetry since high school and over the past year or two I have been trying to read different forms as part of my reading habit. This book was perfectly timed for me. I have always shied away from poetry, but this helped me understand it’s forms and some it’s functions. I truly appreciate the time taken by Stephanie Burt to explain these in her book and I truly hope that the result it a lot more people enjoying poetry as part of their reading experience.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christine C

    In Don't Read Poetry, poet and Harvard professor Stephanie Burt takes on everyone who doesn't understand poetry, or thinks it a bore, or drudgery to be suffered through in school.  "So: don't read poetry. Don't assume poetry ever means only one thing, other than maybe a set of tools for making things with words, as music means a set of tools (beats, rhythms, harmonies, textures, instruments) for making things with sounds. instead, find ways to encounter kinds of poems and learn different reasons In Don't Read Poetry, poet and Harvard professor Stephanie Burt takes on everyone who doesn't understand poetry, or thinks it a bore, or drudgery to be suffered through in school.  "So: don't read poetry. Don't assume poetry ever means only one thing, other than maybe a set of tools for making things with words, as music means a set of tools (beats, rhythms, harmonies, textures, instruments) for making things with sounds. instead, find ways to encounter kinds of poems and learn different reasons to read poems, realized in various ways by various poems." Each chapter focuses on one aspect of poetry. In this book, the author looks at poems focusing on feelings and characters, and examines various forms and techniques, and difficulty. She addresses the wisdom in poems - some have messages and some do not. She also writes about poems that examine community - poems that directly address national, regional, ethnic, or professional identities. Throughout the entire book Ms Burt gives many examples of poems from ancient to modern, contemporary to classics, well known or obscure, in English and in other languages. The author doesn't lecture the reader about the diversity of poetry but shows us continuously.  The purpose of this book is a guide to the many forms of poetry and the many emotional places it can take us. There isn't just one "route" or "destination" but each person derives their own reaction and experience. 

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike Nesemann

    I have always felt I “should” read poetry but multiple efforts were short-lived, perhaps because I approach it like prose, reading a few “chapters” per sitting. Never worked. So this book’s title caught my eye. Basically the premise is, check out the vast universe of poetry and read the poems you like, don’t feel you have to enjoy all of them. In other words, read poems not poetry. She uses music as an analogy, almost everyone enjoys some kinds of music but can't abide others. She certainly know I have always felt I “should” read poetry but multiple efforts were short-lived, perhaps because I approach it like prose, reading a few “chapters” per sitting. Never worked. So this book’s title caught my eye. Basically the premise is, check out the vast universe of poetry and read the poems you like, don’t feel you have to enjoy all of them. In other words, read poems not poetry. She uses music as an analogy, almost everyone enjoys some kinds of music but can't abide others. She certainly knows her craft, offering samples from a bewildering array of genres, including an ancient Sumerian hymn/saying, “In a city with no dogs, the fox is boss.” Looking at the origins of poetry, she cites a theory that perhaps poems were the lyrics of ancient songs, passed on when the music was lost. Anyway, interesting book but I guess I still need to learn to read poems in small batches. Some citations were really quite evocative, e.g., an excerpt from A. R. Ammons: “…if you are not gone at a certain age, your world is: or it is shriveled to a few people who know what you know: aunts and uncles with their histories blanked out, the thick tissue of relationships erased into one of emptiness…..” I would especially recommend this to folks who already enjoy poetry and would like to broaden their exposure.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Seema Rao

    Thoughtful ~ Honest ~ Helpful tl; dr: Poetry doesn't suck, and you can learn to believe this. I have always hated poetry. It's one of those dirty secrets I don't usually share because it makes me nuts when people say they hate reading or art (two parts of my job). I grabbed this book like a guilty teen with a crib sheet. But, I'm so glad I did. Even poetry lovers will enjoy Burt's book. She comes at the topic from a place of support and honesty. So many literature teachers are snobs and treat tho Thoughtful ~ Honest ~ Helpful tl; dr: Poetry doesn't suck, and you can learn to believe this. I have always hated poetry. It's one of those dirty secrets I don't usually share because it makes me nuts when people say they hate reading or art (two parts of my job). I grabbed this book like a guilty teen with a crib sheet. But, I'm so glad I did. Even poetry lovers will enjoy Burt's book. She comes at the topic from a place of support and honesty. So many literature teachers are snobs and treat those who don't get it as dumb. Burt is kind to her readers and her tone is respectful. She draws from a wide set of references, particularly contemporary popular culture. Moreover, the book does what it promises--make poetry approachable. I learned a great deal from her book, particularly the section about characters. Definitely recommend this book. Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ellie King

    A bit dry and slow in some parts, but Burt is successful at making poetry a less daunting and fairly exciting art form for someone like me, who has never known much about it except what was dryly taught to me in high school. Read this book to get a great selection of interesting poems and also if you want to feel the urge to set it down every 15 minutes and give a shot at writing poetry yourself.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Butch

    If you’re like me and think you hate poetry or are intimidated by it but suspect you’re missing out on a whole other world this book works. Also a good introduction to a ton of contemporary poets who are talking about all the things you care about now - culturally, politically, aesthetically - all that

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I read this once and then I read it again. It’s a library book; the library has stopped taking books back for now, due to Covid-19, so after it had been sitting on my table for awhile I decided to read it a second time. The first time I thought it was disjointed, but now the pieces begin to come together. I’m glad to know Stephanie Burt. She’s an influential poet-critic-professor but she’s not writing from a high place. She often writes in first person, and she addresses the reader directly. She I read this once and then I read it again. It’s a library book; the library has stopped taking books back for now, due to Covid-19, so after it had been sitting on my table for awhile I decided to read it a second time. The first time I thought it was disjointed, but now the pieces begin to come together. I’m glad to know Stephanie Burt. She’s an influential poet-critic-professor but she’s not writing from a high place. She often writes in first person, and she addresses the reader directly. She doesn’t offer complete poems with commentary. Rather, she shows ways poems can please (6 categories— feeling, character, technique, difficulty, wisdom, community) and offers pieces of poems from many eras as examples. The book is a guide and invitation to finding poems you like, with assurance that the more you know of poetry the more you will like and sometimes love.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rt

    Disclosure: Stephanie is a good friend and one of the smartest people I know. The conceit of the title is: don’t read poetry, read poems, which “are like pieces of music: by definition they all have something in common, but they vary widely in how they work, where they come from, and what they try to do.” One thing vital to the poetic project is the arrangement of language “to convey, share, or provoke emotions,” along with whatever else a poem does. Poems can also introduce us to characters, in Disclosure: Stephanie is a good friend and one of the smartest people I know. The conceit of the title is: don’t read poetry, read poems, which “are like pieces of music: by definition they all have something in common, but they vary widely in how they work, where they come from, and what they try to do.” One thing vital to the poetic project is the arrangement of language “to convey, share, or provoke emotions,” along with whatever else a poem does. Poems can also introduce us to characters, interest us with the play of their technique, and/or teach wisdom; Burt argues that you should look for poems that you find interesting, or beautiful, or provocative, or whatever. So, for example, lyric poems are about communicating across the divide of personhood: as Hera Lindsay Bird writes, a lyric poem can say “There is something wrong with you that is also wrong with me.” Lyric poems are the realm of mirrors, and windows, and both at once: they’re about seeing “both outside yourself and into yourself.” By (partial) contrast, poems of character “are like people we could meet, and so it is no wonder that they so often compare themselves to portraits, photographs, paintings.” Poems as technique/form are “games that poets can play.” Understanding when and why the poet succeeds at her game (what Burt describes as “formal excellence combined with creativity”) is aided by recognizing how rhyme and rhyme-like euphonies work, but rhyme doesn’t have to be a part of it. Burt defends poems that don’t make consistent sense: “opaque or resistant language can instruct and delight, and … some non-or anti-sense in poetry can help us spot nonsense, or hypocrisy, or lies, in the rest of the world, outside poems.” This is one way that poems may share wisdom with us: calling us to recognize “either the injustice or the beauty that we would otherwise overlook. The goal of making the world weird again, either to like it more or to help it change,” can itself be wisdom, along with more conventional

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    I felt that I sucked at reading poetry; as I would read, even at a snail's pace, I was convinced that I was missing some larger point entirely, wholly disrespecting the author's work like a dog gnawing on bones at an archaeological dig. While I can't say that I'm completely prepared to take on even a quarter of the poetry out there (I should be clear that Burt doesn't certify that this book is a Rosetta Stone for understanding all poems past this read), I guarantee that I'm looking at these works I felt that I sucked at reading poetry; as I would read, even at a snail's pace, I was convinced that I was missing some larger point entirely, wholly disrespecting the author's work like a dog gnawing on bones at an archaeological dig. While I can't say that I'm completely prepared to take on even a quarter of the poetry out there (I should be clear that Burt doesn't certify that this book is a Rosetta Stone for understanding all poems past this read), I guarantee that I'm looking at these works differently. Instead of being intimidated at never seeing some lofty theme that probably requires some level of context, I can approach it and read it for what it is: art, expression, to be perceived by the reader and thought upon. Burt likens poems to famous songs, wherein each of us might like it a teensy bit less than the other, have tied to it some memory or level of sentimentality, or maybe the song spoke to us at a unique point in our lives; through this lens, a reader can figuratively let their hair down, becoming a little more receptive and serving as a better audience for the author's message, whatever that might be. You'll be introduced to a wide array of poems spanning across centuries, style, and subject matter; the numerous dissections of works certainly helps to present key concepts to keep an eye out for. Think of this as a book meant to help you get in the right frame of mind, and not some work lined with if-then statements. Many thanks to NetGalley, Perseus Books, and Basic Books for the advance read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    A helpful, amusingly opinionated and thought-provoking guide for how to think about reading individual poems. Some notions are fairly obvious, like reading for feelings and character. Others more surprising and illuminating, like reading for “difficulty.” I enjoyed the many illustrative examples throughout, and appreciated that the writer didn’t offer a “what to read now” at the end, although I might not have minded a straightforward citation list to help find the full poems excerpted within. Ov A helpful, amusingly opinionated and thought-provoking guide for how to think about reading individual poems. Some notions are fairly obvious, like reading for feelings and character. Others more surprising and illuminating, like reading for “difficulty.” I enjoyed the many illustrative examples throughout, and appreciated that the writer didn’t offer a “what to read now” at the end, although I might not have minded a straightforward citation list to help find the full poems excerpted within. Overall, though, I recommend this to anyone seeking to better appreciate the value and meaning of this vital art form!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Reading Cat

    I'm always looking to find ways to make poetry more accessible for my students, so I saw this book getting some buzz and so obviously, I read it. And perhaps reading it with an eye for that--for 'can I recommend/excerpt/assign parts of this in my lit classes' is what accounts for the rating. And part of it, I really think, is just the book's fizzle. See, it starts out great. It starts out clear and strong and just as rebellious as the title promises. It gives us six lenses from which to view and I'm always looking to find ways to make poetry more accessible for my students, so I saw this book getting some buzz and so obviously, I read it. And perhaps reading it with an eye for that--for 'can I recommend/excerpt/assign parts of this in my lit classes' is what accounts for the rating. And part of it, I really think, is just the book's fizzle. See, it starts out great. It starts out clear and strong and just as rebellious as the title promises. It gives us six lenses from which to view and appreciate a poem, so instead of just saying "I liked it" we can say something about if it had a character, or self-evident wordplay, or an overt message--all well and good for my purposes. And the first two or three chapters were quite strong. I was cruising along enjoying it quite a bit for its mix of old and new poems side by side, and whatever I might say about Burt, she can pick a quote of poetry that just begs to be read aloud. Each chapter has several moments where it stops and recaps what it already told you. This MIGHT actually have been a plus for using it as a text--a little waypoint for the student saying 'hey, remember this?', but reading it straight through, it got tedious, rather like the author suspected the reader might have some sort of short-term-memory issue and cannot remember what they read literally five pages ago. If that is reflecting Burt's own disability, that's one thing, but a thing I suspect she would have foregrounded, as she foregrounds everything else about herself. Because, you see, that's the real issue I take with this book. Increasingly as the work continues, Burt inserts herself more and more and more. Now, we can of course make room to say poetry is an idiosyncratic thing, and poems you like and why will not be the same poems I like and the same why. Taste has always had an element of the subjective. But Burt seems to want to insist, in the latter parts of the book (and the absence in the beginning parts make me suspect that this was not well-revised for consistency--that the first two chapters represent her 2015 thoughts and the latter chapters her more recent ones) identity-as-label. Now, that's been a peeve of mine for several years now: this idea that someone can reduce themselves and their core identity to a bunch of labels that are, in many cases, irrelevant. I find labels stifling and it's my chief issue with so called intersectionality--that you have your labels and I have mine and if we have no labels in common, YUCK we have nothing in common. But the issue is that Burt basically in the end decenters the poetry and centers increasingly toward the end of the book. It's partly because the topic she's selected is too tempting--if you're writing poems as messages for civil engagement, it is perhaps too juicy a bait for a modern person to not want to throw in barbs about how much they hate Trump and how white men are the worst (while, ironically, featuring the standard roster of Dead White European Men throughout). It's not that I disagree with her politics, it's just...banal. Every conference I've attended since 2016 has had every speaker, every keynote, even on topics as non political as video games, insert an almost obligatory "Trump Is Bad" slide/meme/barb. It's a reflex that confuses me because well...I mean, presuming we all agree here, what's the point? A cheap joke of togetherness? Oh we are a community because we all laugh at how bad Orange Man is? For a section that is supposed to be about how in your face revolutionary burn the house down poetry can be...literally the LEAST revolutionary, least counterculture thing you can say is 'I don't like Trump'. That is literally the most mainstream sentiment you can express, not only in the USA but the world. If your argument is that poems are voices and need to be heard...maybe pick something I don't already hear every day on Twitter? It's not a terrible book? But as someone who pretends (her knowledge of medieval poetry is spit shallow) to know the history of poetry, she has not remembered the lesson that caused Wordsworth to be such a revolutionary with words: that poets who spent too much of their creative work diving into politics and current debates and satire and the present moment...quickly become irrelevant. No one reads "Absalom and Achitophel" any more, for example. And shortly, sadly, Burt is guaranteeing that her book will also soon be cast to the dustbin of 'crusty old stuff'. But I suppose she got tenure out of it, so that's something?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    Burt provides an intriguing primer on poetry for those who are just discovering the art. She states that this is not a book for those looking for justification of popular poetry, but it is a book that helps one navigate through the many types of poetry. Burt uses well-known poets of different eras like O'Hara, Shelly, Byron, and Frost as well as a host of other lesser known poets. The exploration of poetry leads to the (human) commonality of many types and eras as well as differences in style. It Burt provides an intriguing primer on poetry for those who are just discovering the art. She states that this is not a book for those looking for justification of popular poetry, but it is a book that helps one navigate through the many types of poetry. Burt uses well-known poets of different eras like O'Hara, Shelly, Byron, and Frost as well as a host of other lesser known poets. The exploration of poetry leads to the (human) commonality of many types and eras as well as differences in style. It's not uncommon to like on poet and not another even if they are in the same period and style. It can go even farther, for example, I like Shelly's lyrical poems but don't care much for his narrative ones. Even in the different styles of poetry that confine its structure, there are variations that poets use to construct their writing. Langston Hughes reinvented the folk quatrain. Phillis Wheatley, the first published African- American poet in the late 18th century, reinvented the freestanding couplet. Both took the rules and made them their own. Poetry also teaches about the poets. The example of Willam Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy are used as an example (and sheds some light on the cover art of this book). Many times poets are thought to be stiff and formal, but poets like Byron shatter that idea with the epic poem Don Juan. One of my favorite lines from the poem: In the case our Lord the King should go to war again, He learned the arts of riding, fencing, gunnery, And how to scale a fortress—or a nunnery Byron keeps to a rhyme scheme and even included an ottava rima, a complex structure used originally in heroic Italian poems, but here it is used for a different sort of "hero." Byron uses the strict form to create a farce of ivory tower poetry.  Poetry ranges from the easy to understand to the very difficult.  Tiny Buttons by Gertrude Stein is used as a popular example.  There is so much that a collection, of seemingly incoherent words, can build. Other poets are even more complicated.  It took me over a year to get through and somewhat understand Eric Linsker's La Far.   Burt writes for those who have seen a spark of poetry -- maybe a quote in a movie,  or a bit of Walt Whitman in a Levis commercial, or even a poster on a commuter train.  Something that grabbed a person's attention and left him or her wanting more.  Burt will be the curious readers Virgil through the levels of poetry.   ____________________________________________________________ Stephanie Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice from the Lights (2017), Belmont (2013), Parallel Play (2006), and Popular Music (1999).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Curt Bobbitt

    Stephanie Burt succeeds with the goals she states in the subtitle, the introduction, and several reminders later in the book. “If this book works as I hope it will, you will evolve your own reasons for liking poems too, however you find more of them (in anthologies, on websites, in single-author volumes, via audio or video): they will be reasons not wholly congruent with my own six categories (feeling, character, technique, difficulty, wisdom, and community). Burt sometimes commands readers: "Don Stephanie Burt succeeds with the goals she states in the subtitle, the introduction, and several reminders later in the book. “If this book works as I hope it will, you will evolve your own reasons for liking poems too, however you find more of them (in anthologies, on websites, in single-author volumes, via audio or video): they will be reasons not wholly congruent with my own six categories (feeling, character, technique, difficulty, wisdom, and community). Burt sometimes commands readers: "Don’t assume poetry ever means only one thing, other than maybe a set of tools for making things with words, as music means a set of tools (beats, rhythms, harmonies, textures, instruments) for making things with sounds.” Usually, however, she encourages readers to judge for themselves the individual poems she quotes AND any other poems they choose to read: “The more you learn about poetic techniques—about what rhyme can do, how line breaks work, about the uses of zeugma and anthimeria and a thousand other techniques that you might recognize and enjoy without every looking up the names for them—the more you can like, and the more you will be able to say about what you like and why.” Burt's political stand appears explicitly in some of her declarations: “Too often, school-approved literary history has placed (whether or not the teachers intended to do so) white, rich, urban, cisgender men at the center, treating their experience as universal and other poets as special cases.” She consistently urges readers to think for themselves: “Such monumental models (canons, if you like) can be useful guides but also (sometimes inadvertent) bullies, discouraging you from reading widely, from loving obscurity, from figuring out what you really like, as against what you’re supposed to like or what will be on the test." Burt's broad critical approach includes dozens of individual poems, background information about the poets, and her informed reasons for including them. The six "categories" in the chapters overlap and never become rigid as features of judgment. They expand rather than limit ways to read and hear poems. An analogy late in the book reinforces that overlap. “The TV chef Alton Brown likes to say that his kitchens have (with one exception) no single-taskers, no implements, like a grapefruit spoon, that will do only one thing. The limited space on his shelves is, instead, reserved for tools that can accomplish many tasks in many recipes: skewers, slotted spoons, a quality knife. You can say the same thing about the mental ‘shelf space’ that we reserve for our favorite poems. Some poems become famous fast, or matter a great deal to certain readers, because they’re so good at just one thing, like a fire extinguisher (Brown’s one exception). But the poems that stick around for decades or centuries, the poems that outlast typewrites and survive revolutions, are usually more like pans and knives: they can speak to many readers in many ways, have many uses, can do many things.”

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kitty

    This book proves to me another reason why leading a weekly discussion of all manner of poems has been and continues to be a success. The title is a clever gimmick perhaps-- where the emphasis on what is actually meant, is not revealed -- the same kind of gimmick poets use when they follow the golden rule of "show, don't tell". What "showing" allows, is a conversation with the reader, that requires the reader to notice... observe, wonder, ponder. Poetry, as a noun, often is misunderstood by those This book proves to me another reason why leading a weekly discussion of all manner of poems has been and continues to be a success. The title is a clever gimmick perhaps-- where the emphasis on what is actually meant, is not revealed -- the same kind of gimmick poets use when they follow the golden rule of "show, don't tell". What "showing" allows, is a conversation with the reader, that requires the reader to notice... observe, wonder, ponder. Poetry, as a noun, often is misunderstood by those who do not make up the small minority of people who understand that it is a necessary art. Stephanie Burt organizes her book to allow poetry to become an activity (with the inherent invitation to learn to "do it" well: i.e. become a savvy reader of poems). She breaks down the chapters into feelings, characters, forms, difficulty, wisdom and community. That can sound like a tedious academic exercise, but not in this book! Her choices of poems, her style are engaging: a "nimble thinking about culture, comprehension" to quote Terrance Hayes in his blurb on the back. (And if you don't know about the nimble mastery Hayes provides with his explorations and inventions of forms, you will find examples in this book.) There are myriad ways in which poems matter... and taking each poem like a painting in a museum, not to be able to write a treatise on it, not to provide the biography of the painter, an explanation of the subject and/or perhaps implied meaning, is to give each poem a possibility to express itself in a much larger manner. What I see each week in my discussion group is the satisfying discussion among 20 people who share what they see, hear, sense, to allow each poem to be a prism placed in the light. Stephanie starts out with the etymology of poem: from the ancient Greek verb that means, "to make"; medieval Scots called poets "makars" -- people who made things out of words. They shared not goals but techniques: patterns in sound, metaphors, ways to let language do things that cannot be straightforwardly, simply said. Each section provides a banquet of poems -- but, for those who might not like the idea of an elaborate and abundant presentation -- allow me to reassure you... it feels like having a comfortable, enlightening and delightful conversation. I also enjoyed this Washington Post review of the book -- https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert... and yes... many of the criticisms... but that does not take away from being glad I stumbled on this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deedi Brown (DeediReads)

    All my review live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: Don’t Read Poetry is not quite the reading-poetry-how-to I’d expected, but I’m so glad I picked it up; it is an homage to the world of poetry that’s a delight to read. For you if: You have a basic handle on how poetry “works” and want to go a bit deeper. FULL REVIEW: One of my intentions this year is to become more familiar with and comfortable in the world of poetry. I started with Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Poetry Like a Prof All my review live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: Don’t Read Poetry is not quite the reading-poetry-how-to I’d expected, but I’m so glad I picked it up; it is an homage to the world of poetry that’s a delight to read. For you if: You have a basic handle on how poetry “works” and want to go a bit deeper. FULL REVIEW: One of my intentions this year is to become more familiar with and comfortable in the world of poetry. I started with Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Poetry Like a Professor, which I definitely recommend if you feel like a poetry noob — like you’re sure there’s a level to poetry you’re not picking up on when you read it. I hoped that Don’t Read Poetry would be similar, but one level deeper — a natural progression. And while it was not similar or quite what I’d expected, it was a good progression in my poetry journey. Stephanie Burt is a real expert here, writing with a casual confidence that feels accessible but also makes it clear how much she loves the form and knows about the poetry world. Instead of talking about rhyme, then meter, then line breaks, etc, she examines poetry through murkier, more wiggly lenses: emotion, character, form, wisdom, and community. She uses excellent examples — classic and contemporary and everywhere in between — and examines them with care and clarity. I did find that the chapters were long, and at times I wished that they had been broken up into subsections or maybe just more section breaks than they had. But still, I love that I encountered this book so early in my poetry journey, because I think it helped break apart what could have become an over-focus on technique in my understanding of poems. I don’t think this book is best for someone who still feels like they need poetry level 1. But truly, it was great for level 2. If you’re looking to learn more about poetry, pick this one up.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Bogler

    Thanks to a colleague (who is a writer, poet, and former English Professor) I have gathered my courage in my 6th decade to try and learn how to read and appreciate poetry. In addition to reading poetry, I read this book by Stephanie Burt and found it just wonderful and amazing. It is accessible, well written and perfectly well suited to someone early in their poetry journey, though I can imagine that more experienced readers will also get much out of it. Burt divides the book into areas that are Thanks to a colleague (who is a writer, poet, and former English Professor) I have gathered my courage in my 6th decade to try and learn how to read and appreciate poetry. In addition to reading poetry, I read this book by Stephanie Burt and found it just wonderful and amazing. It is accessible, well written and perfectly well suited to someone early in their poetry journey, though I can imagine that more experienced readers will also get much out of it. Burt divides the book into areas that are things you can look for in a poem: Feelings, Characters, Forms. Difficulty, Wisdom, and Community. In each section, she discusses the evolution of poetry and illustrates her narrative with many great examples. I found the experience very rewarding. While the section on Forms was for me the most enjoyable, I took away most learning from Difficulty. As a novice, I am of course not infrequently frustrated when trying to read poems by my inability to unlock their meanings in a satisfying way. (I am also doing ModPo on Coursera where I love the close reading videos by Al Filreis and his colleagues and am trying to learn how to better understand poems.) Burt managed, in Difficulties, to encourage me to enjoy difficult poems, see that their difficulty may well stem from a variety of authentic sources, and accept that some poems are never meant to be entirely accessible (at least to me, as one specific human being).

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Fredrickson

    The title of this book is perfect for the contents, but the reader doesn't know this until well into the reading of the book. This is not a book about the play of language and technique that most poetry books address, but more about how one understands and appreciates individual poems in what they do and say. The book comes across somewhat as a discussion in which the author shares her sense of what is going on in some poems, and points to things to consider along the way. Some of the chapters r The title of this book is perfect for the contents, but the reader doesn't know this until well into the reading of the book. This is not a book about the play of language and technique that most poetry books address, but more about how one understands and appreciates individual poems in what they do and say. The book comes across somewhat as a discussion in which the author shares her sense of what is going on in some poems, and points to things to consider along the way. Some of the chapters read very easily, while others (amusingly, for example, the one entitled "Difficulty") are considerably more difficult to follow. Burt's selection is expansive, covering quite a span of poets, styles and ages; she includes selections from poets like Hopkins and Donne whose language is almost impossibly dense, while also including "poems" that come across as almost infantile language play. There is a lot of interesting material in this book. I am representing it here as only 3 stars, but this is because I'm not convinced I followed it well enough. The book is going to force me to re-read it sometime to better understand it. I anticipate doing so, and most likely raising 'my rating' of it. The book has forced me to establish another tag to mark it as such.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Miles

    A good reintroduction to poetry for those, like myself, who last seriously thought about the subject in high school or college. Burt does an excellent job of reminding the reader what we can get out of poems - why we read them and what poems can accomplish. One of her main points is that we shouldn't think about "Poetry" as a classic and dusty old art form to be studied. Rather, we should read individual poems and poets. We should be moved, comforted, and challenged by them. I particularly appre A good reintroduction to poetry for those, like myself, who last seriously thought about the subject in high school or college. Burt does an excellent job of reminding the reader what we can get out of poems - why we read them and what poems can accomplish. One of her main points is that we shouldn't think about "Poetry" as a classic and dusty old art form to be studied. Rather, we should read individual poems and poets. We should be moved, comforted, and challenged by them. I particularly appreciated being introduced to a wide variety of contemporary poets throughout the book, who address ideas, feelings, and issues facing them and us today. For me, the book definitely accomplished its goal of encouraging the reader to seek out those poems and poets that can speak to them, that can arouse thoughts, emotions, and experiences in ways that other art forms might not be able to.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert B

    Burt, a poet herself, provides an introduction to reading, understanding, and appreciating individual poems. She classifies these poems into six categories (overlapping, not mutually exclusive), devoting a chapter to each: Feelings, Characters, Forms, Difficulty, Wisdom, and Community. The poets discussed range from John Donne to Terrance Hayes, from Emily Dickinson to Angie Estes. Burt usually provides just one or two stanzas of a poem, and while this approach does allow her to cover more poems Burt, a poet herself, provides an introduction to reading, understanding, and appreciating individual poems. She classifies these poems into six categories (overlapping, not mutually exclusive), devoting a chapter to each: Feelings, Characters, Forms, Difficulty, Wisdom, and Community. The poets discussed range from John Donne to Terrance Hayes, from Emily Dickinson to Angie Estes. Burt usually provides just one or two stanzas of a poem, and while this approach does allow her to cover more poems and poets at a time, it also limits the depth of her analysis. Nevertheless, the book is a reasonably good introduction to a large number of poems and poets.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Seders

    A Refreshing Approach I really liked the organization of this book, which emphasized the different reasons that one might approach a poem. Rather than giving us a chronological or technical anthology, Burt asked us to consider why and how we read poems. Particularly strong are the chapters that highlight feelings, forms, and community! Though my preferences likely differ from the author's in many ways, I'm walking away from Don't Read Poetry a better and more excited reader. A Refreshing Approach I really liked the organization of this book, which emphasized the different reasons that one might approach a poem. Rather than giving us a chronological or technical anthology, Burt asked us to consider why and how we read poems. Particularly strong are the chapters that highlight feelings, forms, and community! Though my preferences likely differ from the author's in many ways, I'm walking away from Don't Read Poetry a better and more excited reader.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Burt argues in the introduction that poetry is not one thing and that saying, “I read poetry,” is as vague and pointless as saying, “I listen to music,” leaving students without direction. She then lays out reasons for reading poems—feelings, characters, forms, difficulty, wisdom, and community—to give readers some guidance in exploring their way to the types of poems they like. Similar to Adam Sol’s How a Poem Moves, but I found this one a little more engaging—or maybe the lessons are just sink Burt argues in the introduction that poetry is not one thing and that saying, “I read poetry,” is as vague and pointless as saying, “I listen to music,” leaving students without direction. She then lays out reasons for reading poems—feelings, characters, forms, difficulty, wisdom, and community—to give readers some guidance in exploring their way to the types of poems they like. Similar to Adam Sol’s How a Poem Moves, but I found this one a little more engaging—or maybe the lessons are just sinking in more the more I read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary Casey

    I loved this book. I write poetry myself and I highly recommend this book for anyone thinking of writing poetry or learning how to read poetry. It seems like such a nebulous art but this book is great at focusing on what poetry is and can be for each individual. This is not a boring book in the least. If you have ever been curious about poetry or think you can't read it or write it give this book a try! Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read the ARC of this book I loved this book. I write poetry myself and I highly recommend this book for anyone thinking of writing poetry or learning how to read poetry. It seems like such a nebulous art but this book is great at focusing on what poetry is and can be for each individual. This is not a boring book in the least. If you have ever been curious about poetry or think you can't read it or write it give this book a try! Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read the ARC of this book

  26. 4 out of 5

    Richard Leis

    Yes! I've struggled since late in 2013 to make sense of "Poetry" even while becoming a poet. This book finally provides me with a framework for reading poems, rather than poetry. Stephanie Burt, in beautiful prose full of examples and anecdotes, discusses the many things different poems attempt to do, the various reasons poets write poems, and the various reasons readers might be drawn to particular poems and poets. Yes! I've struggled since late in 2013 to make sense of "Poetry" even while becoming a poet. This book finally provides me with a framework for reading poems, rather than poetry. Stephanie Burt, in beautiful prose full of examples and anecdotes, discusses the many things different poems attempt to do, the various reasons poets write poems, and the various reasons readers might be drawn to particular poems and poets.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I liked this book a lot. Basically the author says: Don’t read poetry - read poems. “Poetry” is not a single unified category - poems do lots of different things and people read them to get different things out of them. The author was very thoughtful in her exploration of this theme and the various things poems are for. My only criticism is that it was a little unsatisfying to read so many quotes from different poems rather than reading the actual whole poems.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Newell

    Burt provides a really great overview of the value of poetry, which really provides me with a lot of encouragement (as a non-poetry reader) to invest some more time into books of verse! She does have a habit of meandering around from poetic example to poetic example within each chapter, which made it a slower-than-usual read for me. Altogether though, each piece does still work towards the common goal of a chapter, so by the end, you’ll still feel satisfied that your time spent was worth it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrea McDowell

    I enjoyed this book and the author's classification of poetry styles and effects, and love as always introductions to new-to-me poets, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is. It seems that the people most likely to read it are those who are already convinced that poetry is relevant and has value, and those who she's most interested in talking to--those who think of "poetry" as a monolithic thing that they don't enjoy--are unlikely to pick it up. Which is a shame. It's a good book. If you t I enjoyed this book and the author's classification of poetry styles and effects, and love as always introductions to new-to-me poets, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is. It seems that the people most likely to read it are those who are already convinced that poetry is relevant and has value, and those who she's most interested in talking to--those who think of "poetry" as a monolithic thing that they don't enjoy--are unlikely to pick it up. Which is a shame. It's a good book. If you think you don't like poetry, pick it up.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Natty S

    Excellent and accessible introduction to poetry for those who find poetry intimidating. Burt will take you through poetry of all kinds by people of all kinds (I think that was my favorite part of this book -- the sheer breadth of voices) and help you understand why poems (as opposed to poetry) mean so much to us. I would have liked a bit more technical tuition on form, meter, etc. But then, I suppose there are plenty of other books for that.

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