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A collection of reviews and essays by David Orr, the New York Times poetry columnist and one of the most respected critics in America today, his best work of the past fifteen years in one place
Poetry is never more vital, meaningful, or accessible than in the hands of David Orr. In the pieces collected here, most of them written originally for the New York Times, Orr is at his rigorous, conversational, and edifying best. Whether he is considering the careers of contemporary masters, such as Louise Glück or Frederick Seidel, sizing up younger American poets, like Matthea Harvey and Matthew Zapruder, or even turning his attention to celebrities and public figures, namely Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Fry, when they choose to wade into the hotly contested waters of the poetry world, Orr is never any less than fully persuasive in arguing what makes a poem or poet great—or not. After all, as Orr points out in his introduction, “Poetry is a lot like America, in the sense that liking all of it means that you probably shouldn’t be trusted with money, or scissors.”
Orr’s prose is devoted to common sense and clarity, and, in every case, he brings to bear an impeccable ear, an openhandedness of spirit, and a deep wealth of technical knowledge—to say nothing of his shrewd sense of humor. As pleasurable as it is informative, Orr’s journalism represents a high watermark in the public discussion of literature. You, Too, Could Write a Poem is at heart a love note to poetry itself.
Orr (The Road Not Taken) collects entries from his New York Times poetry column from the past 15 years, analyzing the works of individual poets and the state of the form itself. He provides equal parts illuminating commentary and hilarious jabs at the poetry world's insularity and pretensions. He playfully skewers Billy Collins in a verse that perfectly mimics Collins's signature style and disparages poets who are "small-scale epiphany manufacturers." Among his many skills, Orr displays a singular ability to capture a poet's sensibility, comparing Stevie Smith to a figure skater whose "seemingly purposeless meanderings" somehow "cut into the ice the figure of a hanged man." A very clever piece examining clich s of poetic "greatness" argues for Elizabeth Bishop's more subtle powers over "thunderbolt-chucking wild man" Robert Lowell. More user-friendly pieces look at the tradition of wedding poetry, poke fun at an O Magazine feature titled "Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets," and summarily appraise James Franco's poetic output: "Is it, you may be wondering, good? No." Orr is an exceptional wit and critical talent, with perhaps his most brilliant feat here being how he dissolves some of poetry's opacity and makes it more accessible (and interesting) to a wider audience.