I read Matthew Zapruder’s Why Poetry (HarperCollins) over a handful of days late in 2017; I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect, except that I hoped to read an answer to the question “Why Poetry”…or perhaps in a more extended version, why poetry is a good and valuable literary pursuit.
I’m not sure that Zapruder really provides a proper, well-reasoned answer to the question on the book’s cover. The book seems to be a collection of would-be blog-posts, anecdotes and ruminations on Zapruder’s favorite poets and poems rather than a cohesive exploration of the topic set out by the title of the book.
Not fulfulling the promise of the title and appearing to collect blog posts seems to be fairly common these days, so I’m tolerating that because Zapruder expresses many things about poetry that I appreciate and value.
The single best thing I read in the book is Zapruder’s description of the “movement of the mind through a poem”. The description is eminently worthy
A poem presents itself as a kind of real-time movement of thinking, down the page, which the reader can enter, and follow. This can feel like something between watching a movie and listening to a someone think out loud. (pg.58)
Ah, indeed. And to observe the thoughts of a great poet, or even an average poet who is struggling with a significant matter, is a wonderful thing to participate in. Perhaps this is Zapruder’s greatest contribution to my own understanding of poetry…a few words that get to the heart of the matter that is poetry.
But, I was also very taken with Zapruder’s descriptions of rhyming concepts (in comparison to rhyming words); it is a notion I have considered in my own poetry. Zapruder argues that writing in rhyme now is anachronistic. That seems partly correct, though I’ll add that it seems to be an artificial imposition on modern English, a language which carries so much multi-lingual freight, that forcing rhyme seems to be more and more cumbersome and, well, forced. Forced poetry is not enjoyable. In my Leviathan collection, I hope that the conceptual rhythms and rhymes are observable across multiple poems and not solely within any single page.
If you pick up a copy of Zapruder’s book, check pp 71, 72 and toss in pg. 98 for a valuable consideration of poems relative to things that are inexpressible. Inexpressibly is, or at least should be, an enormous consideration. It is a “how” question if ever there was one.
I deeply appreciate Zapruder’s quotation of Keats on the idea of “negative capability”…though more as an appreciation of agnosticism than as a matter of poetic theory.
I agree with several sentiments that Zapruder expresses regarding formal structures of poetry. Others have spent lots of time writing about the issue. Poetry is almost entirely about form, after all. Personally I’m of the “explore within the boundaries so you know how to explore outside the boundaries” school. It can be tremendous fun to distort a well-recognized form.
There are several valuable moments of poetic theory in this book. It is worthwhile reading for someone already fairly-well oriented to poetry and poetics. I recommend the Zapruder’s Why Poetry.
Zapruder’s website is: http://matthewzapruder.com/