Beautiful & Pointless
A Guide to Modern Poetry
By David Orr
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061673450, 224pp.)
Publication Date: April 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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For most readers, contemporary poetry is a foreign country. And because they've barely visited poetry, let alone lived there, readers struggle to enjoy the art for what it is, rather than what they imagine it to be.
In Beautiful & Pointless, award-winning critic David Orr provides a riveting tour of poetry as it actually exists today. Orr argues that readers should accept the foreignness of poetry in the way that they accept the strangeness of any place to which they haven't traveledthey should expect a little confusion, at least at first. Yet in the same way that we can, over time, learn to appreciate the idiosyncratic delights of, for instance, Belgium, we can learn to be comfortable with the odd pleasures of poetry by taking our time and pursuing what we like.
Reading poetry, Orr suggests, is more a matter of building a relationship than proceeding systematically through a checklist. Beautiful & Pointless provides the foundation for such a relationship by examining the things poets and poetry readers talk about when they discuss poetry, such as why poetry seems especially personal and what it means to write "in form." Orr, by turns acerbic, incisive, hilarious, and keen, is what every reader hopes for: that perfect guide who points the way, doesn't talk too much, and helps you see what you might have missed. Stimulating, amusing, and utterly engrossing, Beautiful & Pointless allows us to see how an individual reader engages poetry, so that we may feel better equipped to appreciate it in our own way.
David Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review. He is the winner of the Nona Balakian prize from the National Book Critics Circle and the Editors Prize for Reviewing from Poetry magazine. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
“Beautiful and Pointless holds a mirror up to the poetry world itself. Orr starts from a brilliantly accurate characterization of what it feels like to read a poem, which should be up on the wall in every high school English classroom.”
“With Beautiful & Pointless, Orr mingles humor with analysis in a way that should provide fodder for novices and academics in equal measure.”
“A passionate, nimble little book.”
-David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review
“Equal parts friendly invitation for the uninitiated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry for the uninitiated and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene. . . . The book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“David Orr is an authentic iconoclast. His criticism is exuberant and original. Dr. Johnson, my critical hero, urged us to clear our mind of cant. Orr has cleared his. He will enhance the perception of his readers. And he wins my heart by his love for Edward Lear.”
“Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar.”
“David Orr reminds us that poetry is an ancient and living art, a robust American art, and not a commodity or vehicle for self-expression, social betterment, or career enhancement. He argues his case with passion, eloquence, erudition and good sense - and, as is his custom, not a little moxy.”
“A short, lively guidebook. . . . With informal spirit and playful wit, Orr invites readers to disagree with him. . . . He comes across as an engaged, discriminating reader-critic concerned with examining rather than selling us a product.”
-William H. Pritchard, Commonweal