What I read on my holidays

Published : Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Over Christmas, I’ve been reading, among other things, and between overs in the cricket, three new books from a series on the art of poetry.

The books are published by Graywolf; the series is “The Art of”; the editor is Charles Baxter; and the books are brief and elegant primers. The three I’ve read are Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Art of Syntax on the poetical rhythms of the sentence (the play of syntax and line is what it’s all about for Ellen); The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach ("The meaning of a poem is in the cadences and the shape of the lines and the pulse of the thought which is given by those lines”, George Oppen); and The Art of Seeing: A Poet’s Eye by Donald Revell. I recommend them; they’re deepening my understanding (I think) of the maths, mechanics and mysteries of the poem.

And while I’m at it, I’ve just come back from my local bookshop, where I recommended Jay Parini’s very clear and elegant Why Poetry Matters (Yale) to the owner, who confessed to me a common anxiety: she feels blocked in the face of poetry, as though she doesn’t know how to get it. I’m pretty sure I don’t either, but Parini helps.