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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 traveled—they 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.

Published: HarperCollins on Apr 12, 2011
ISBN: 9780062079411
List price: $8.99
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This is a difficult book for me to review. On the one hand, I appreciate the book for being well-written and jocular, and, let's be honest, just for being about contemporary poetry. I thought the first half was interesting and entertaining. By the end, however, I was less enthused, because Orr seemed to diminish the subject with too many inside-baseball references and with a perplexing argument that reading poetry really is pretty pointless in the end.I'm not quite sure what Orr was trying to accomplish by trivializing the subject of his own book. What's the point of writing it then? Or more importantly to me, of reading it? And I'm not sure to whom I could recommend the book. I don't think it's for readers who are well-read in contemporary poetry. It definitely isn't for beginners looking for pointers or a syllabus. It's a curious work in the end. He comes across as so negative that it makes me wonder why he's really involved in this field at all.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is not at all the book I expected, given its title and jacket blurb.It professes to be "A Guide to Modern Poetry," and there is much talk about Orr's analogy that one should approach poetry as one would a foreign city, but there's precious little actual poetry discussed within this volume. Instead, each section feels more like I've stepped into the middle of someone else's conversation -- for example, in the first chapter, Orr talks about why poetry can be but isn't solely a personal confessional, but since I never thought that was poetry's only goal the whole chapter seemed somewhat wasted. Similarly with the second chapter, which argues that poets can be and often are political -- I knew that already, and it stands to reason that most non-poetry readers would know that as well because many (if not most) of the poems in a high school curriculum are political in nature. And I had the same problem in the chapters on poetic ambition and the poetic "fishbowl" -- I'm sure these are very important concerns to modern poets, but they are of very little interest to this dilettante of a poetry reader.There is a tremendously clear and useful chapter on form, but as it spends very little time addressing the different ways contemporary poets treat form when compared to classical poets, it feels incomplete for what is supposed to be a book specifically aimed at making modern poetry accessible.The whole book feels, really, more like a guide to the world that modern poetry gets written in -- a world of cliques and battles between competing desires to be academic and artistic and very much caught in the shadow of the larger role poetry used to play in culture. Orr is quite funny at times when talking about that world, and tosses off absolutely fascinating comments about how the world got to be that way without elaborating (I really wish he had elaborated on some of them!), but I had no real interest because it always seemed to be a frighteningly insular and myopic place, and this book simply reaffirmed my previous evaluation.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David Orr’s book is subtitled, A Guide to Modern Poetry. “Poetry,” Orr tells us, is like a foreign country with strange customs, like Belgium. You wouldn’t think of going to Belgium without first investing in a bit of research, finding out what language they speak there, what currency they use, whether they have any cities worth visiting, or museums, or culinary specialities to look forward to trying. In short, you’d probably want a guidebook, something that will give you a flavour of what you can expect to experience but won’t require you to learn the names and telephones number of everyone in the country in order to gain admittance. It’s possible that Orr believes that Beautiful and Pointless is just such a book. There are certainly some interesting things to learn in it, and it is written in a light and jocular style (I mean, Belgium, right?), and gosh, those Belgians sure have funny practices, the way they cuss and fight and generally think they are far more important than in fact they are. The problem is that I’m not sure anyone would want to visit Belgium, or rather the land of modern poetry, on the basis of this so-called guide. But if Orr were to drop the subtitle, then this book is pretty much what it says on the tin: beautiful and pointless.There are some pleasures available in reading this book. I enjoyed the chapter, “The Fishbowl”, on the practice of poetry, from Creative Writing programs, to poetry competitions, to criticism and reviews, and the incessant need to publish early and often. Some chapters, admittedly, are less entertaining and less coherent, e.g. “Ambition”, “The Personal”, and “The Political”. And the final chapter, “Why Bother?” unwittingly reissues Jeremy Bentham’s derisory “push pin versus poetry” complaint shortly after Orr has disavowed turning to the philosophers to assist in answering the question the chapter title asks. He would have done better to leave it to the professionals. Still, it’s not a bad read, I suppose, in a blokey sort of way.Of course, if you’ve been struggling with a collection of modern poetry and have turned to Beautiful and Pointless as an aid, you may, like me, feel somewhat disappointed. So, not recommended for what perhaps it would like to be recommended for. But certainly no worse than push pin.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I love to read, but I don’t know how to read well. I read widely, but I don’t read deeply.So what is a fifty-four-year-old big reader with a busy life to do to correct this? Read something that teaches one how to read deeply, of course. Of course.I nervously checked this book out of the public library. I love poetry more than any other writing, but I know less about poetry than any other type of writing. Would I find anything of value in this book?Yes, happily, I found that David Orr was the perfect person to turn to in order to write a useful and clever book about poetry. Beautiful and Pointless is a wonderful book for anyone who loves poetry. The text of this book is poetry, with lots of apt metaphors and similes. It’s humorous, too, which I found a great relief. Read this book. Read this book if you like poetry. Read this book if you don’t. It’s that good.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David Orr, a poetry critic, writes an approachable book about modern poetry. This is not dense literary analysis that makes you feel that you need a PhD in English to understand it, nor is it a pedagogical book that explains the fundamentals form and meter. Instead it is a thoughtful conversation about different aspects of contemporary poetry---poets and ambition, poetry and politics, the modern mixing of poetry and academia (the preferred sinecure for the modern poet is, apparently, a university appointment), etc. Orr's style is easily approachable. No special background with literary jargon is required, nor is an extensive knowledge of 20th (and 21st) century poets. Orr introduces most, if not all, of the poets he discusses. He also has a fun sense of humor that he deploys just often enough to entertain without detracting from the more serious goals of the book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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This is a difficult book for me to review. On the one hand, I appreciate the book for being well-written and jocular, and, let's be honest, just for being about contemporary poetry. I thought the first half was interesting and entertaining. By the end, however, I was less enthused, because Orr seemed to diminish the subject with too many inside-baseball references and with a perplexing argument that reading poetry really is pretty pointless in the end.I'm not quite sure what Orr was trying to accomplish by trivializing the subject of his own book. What's the point of writing it then? Or more importantly to me, of reading it? And I'm not sure to whom I could recommend the book. I don't think it's for readers who are well-read in contemporary poetry. It definitely isn't for beginners looking for pointers or a syllabus. It's a curious work in the end. He comes across as so negative that it makes me wonder why he's really involved in this field at all.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is not at all the book I expected, given its title and jacket blurb.It professes to be "A Guide to Modern Poetry," and there is much talk about Orr's analogy that one should approach poetry as one would a foreign city, but there's precious little actual poetry discussed within this volume. Instead, each section feels more like I've stepped into the middle of someone else's conversation -- for example, in the first chapter, Orr talks about why poetry can be but isn't solely a personal confessional, but since I never thought that was poetry's only goal the whole chapter seemed somewhat wasted. Similarly with the second chapter, which argues that poets can be and often are political -- I knew that already, and it stands to reason that most non-poetry readers would know that as well because many (if not most) of the poems in a high school curriculum are political in nature. And I had the same problem in the chapters on poetic ambition and the poetic "fishbowl" -- I'm sure these are very important concerns to modern poets, but they are of very little interest to this dilettante of a poetry reader.There is a tremendously clear and useful chapter on form, but as it spends very little time addressing the different ways contemporary poets treat form when compared to classical poets, it feels incomplete for what is supposed to be a book specifically aimed at making modern poetry accessible.The whole book feels, really, more like a guide to the world that modern poetry gets written in -- a world of cliques and battles between competing desires to be academic and artistic and very much caught in the shadow of the larger role poetry used to play in culture. Orr is quite funny at times when talking about that world, and tosses off absolutely fascinating comments about how the world got to be that way without elaborating (I really wish he had elaborated on some of them!), but I had no real interest because it always seemed to be a frighteningly insular and myopic place, and this book simply reaffirmed my previous evaluation.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David Orr’s book is subtitled, A Guide to Modern Poetry. “Poetry,” Orr tells us, is like a foreign country with strange customs, like Belgium. You wouldn’t think of going to Belgium without first investing in a bit of research, finding out what language they speak there, what currency they use, whether they have any cities worth visiting, or museums, or culinary specialities to look forward to trying. In short, you’d probably want a guidebook, something that will give you a flavour of what you can expect to experience but won’t require you to learn the names and telephones number of everyone in the country in order to gain admittance. It’s possible that Orr believes that Beautiful and Pointless is just such a book. There are certainly some interesting things to learn in it, and it is written in a light and jocular style (I mean, Belgium, right?), and gosh, those Belgians sure have funny practices, the way they cuss and fight and generally think they are far more important than in fact they are. The problem is that I’m not sure anyone would want to visit Belgium, or rather the land of modern poetry, on the basis of this so-called guide. But if Orr were to drop the subtitle, then this book is pretty much what it says on the tin: beautiful and pointless.There are some pleasures available in reading this book. I enjoyed the chapter, “The Fishbowl”, on the practice of poetry, from Creative Writing programs, to poetry competitions, to criticism and reviews, and the incessant need to publish early and often. Some chapters, admittedly, are less entertaining and less coherent, e.g. “Ambition”, “The Personal”, and “The Political”. And the final chapter, “Why Bother?” unwittingly reissues Jeremy Bentham’s derisory “push pin versus poetry” complaint shortly after Orr has disavowed turning to the philosophers to assist in answering the question the chapter title asks. He would have done better to leave it to the professionals. Still, it’s not a bad read, I suppose, in a blokey sort of way.Of course, if you’ve been struggling with a collection of modern poetry and have turned to Beautiful and Pointless as an aid, you may, like me, feel somewhat disappointed. So, not recommended for what perhaps it would like to be recommended for. But certainly no worse than push pin.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I love to read, but I don’t know how to read well. I read widely, but I don’t read deeply.So what is a fifty-four-year-old big reader with a busy life to do to correct this? Read something that teaches one how to read deeply, of course. Of course.I nervously checked this book out of the public library. I love poetry more than any other writing, but I know less about poetry than any other type of writing. Would I find anything of value in this book?Yes, happily, I found that David Orr was the perfect person to turn to in order to write a useful and clever book about poetry. Beautiful and Pointless is a wonderful book for anyone who loves poetry. The text of this book is poetry, with lots of apt metaphors and similes. It’s humorous, too, which I found a great relief. Read this book. Read this book if you like poetry. Read this book if you don’t. It’s that good.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David Orr, a poetry critic, writes an approachable book about modern poetry. This is not dense literary analysis that makes you feel that you need a PhD in English to understand it, nor is it a pedagogical book that explains the fundamentals form and meter. Instead it is a thoughtful conversation about different aspects of contemporary poetry---poets and ambition, poetry and politics, the modern mixing of poetry and academia (the preferred sinecure for the modern poet is, apparently, a university appointment), etc. Orr's style is easily approachable. No special background with literary jargon is required, nor is an extensive knowledge of 20th (and 21st) century poets. Orr introduces most, if not all, of the poets he discusses. He also has a fun sense of humor that he deploys just often enough to entertain without detracting from the more serious goals of the book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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