Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Ode Less Travelled

I’ve just finished reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. He makes an enthusiastic case for writing and reading poetry (especially reading good poetry), and for learning to understand and use long-established techniques of meter and form. Not having an understanding of these, he says, means you’ll be working on shifty sands. (My cliché, not his.)
He marches his way systematically through every kind of metre and form you could imagine or want to know, as well as giving readers the chance to read his excellent and amusing examples. He also suggests plenty of exercises to do in order to understand the way metre and form affect the words, and the use of words. He wants to show that meter and form aren’t out-of-date and useless to the modern poet, but necessary.
Without his amusing and sometimes sardonically funny writing, and his poetry (which he claims he doesn’t normally present in public), the book would probably have appealed less. But he has such a passion for the subject, and such a knowledge of it, that he conveys enthusiasm to them to get on and write. (And read, of course.)
Readers should read the poetry in the book out loud - it isn’t just Fry’s poetry that appears, but plenty of good and great examples. He knows what’s worth reading and what isn’t and sometimes isn’t backwards about saying so. His own examples can verge on the scatological (though admittedly very amusingly). Unfortunately he also decided to include four filthy pieces of poetry in order to show that filthy poetry exists. This seemed to me to be a mistake, but maybe others will appreciate it.
Fry introduced me to many poets I didn’t know, and got my poetic juices going. Though I must say I was too busy reading the book to do the examples!

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