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How to Read and Understand Poetry

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Poetry is the primal literary art form, the oldest and arguably the most supple. For its combination of conciseness and richly suggestive expression, it has no rival. A favorite poem is your friend and companion forever. It can move you, delight you, and enrich your hours of reflection over and over again. Now you can learn to savor poetry-the joys that come from "the best Poetry is the primal literary art form, the oldest and arguably the most supple. For its combination of conciseness and richly suggestive expression, it has no rival. A favorite poem is your friend and companion forever. It can move you, delight you, and enrich your hours of reflection over and over again. Now you can learn to savor poetry-the joys that come from "the best words in the best order"-to a fuller degree than you might otherwise have imagined. Professor Willard Spiegelman's friendly yet sophisticated approach to poetry has been delighting students at SMU for more than 30 years, and he has twice been named an Outstanding Professor there. In these 24 lectures, he invites you to share what he has learned over his distinguished career as a scholar and teacher of literature. Gain New Tools to Enrich Your Appreciation Professor Spiegelman begins with the idea that a thorough understanding of poetic patterns, techniques, habits, and genres will give you the tools you need to increase your own enjoyment of poetry and its insights. Dr. Spiegelman provides you these tools through a careful reading and thoughtful analysis of the outstanding poems discussed in this course. Rejecting the widespread misconception that good poetry must be difficult or arcane, he points out that whatever else it is, poetry is music-in-words. Within every poem speaks a living voice. You don't need to be a professional scholar or critic to develop an excellent ear for poetic music and poetic voices. Have Fun Learning from Our Best-Loved Poets The poems are the heart of this course. These 113 examples span a rich variety of verse forms and all the periods of English literature from the Renaissance to the present. They represent the work of many of our best-loved poets. At two pages or less, most are short enough to be memorized completely or in part with relative ease, so you can leave no line unturned in thinking about them with respect to four questions: What do I notice about this poem? What is odd, quirky, or peculiar about it? What new words do I see, or familiar ones in new situations? Why is it the way it is, and not some other way? If you encounter existing favorite poems here, chances are you'll come away with a fresh and more profound sense of why you liked them so much in the first place. And you'll almost certainly find yourself adding entirely new favorites of your own. You also learn an array of literary insights and reading skills. What Poetry Is: Understanding Three Characteristics In particular, you learn about poetic techniques, patterns, habits, and genres. And you learn the three areas which, taken together, define what distinguishes poetry from other kinds of literature. 1. Figurative language You learn why "figuration"-whether metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, or irony-is the crucial component of poetry. The philosopher Aristotle, for example, who was also the first major Western literary critic, said that of all the gifts necessary for a poet, the gift of metaphor was the most important. If you have everything else, such as a good ear, or a sense for plot or character, but lack the gift of metaphor, you won't be a good poet. If you have that gift, you'll still be a poet even if you lack everything else. The course examines how poets seek to convey an idea or a feeling by representing something in terms of something else. You discover why poetry is at once the most concise literary language ("the best words in the best order," Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it) and the most suggestive. And you see why poetry's combination of concision and suggestiveness requires three things from a reader: Pay close attention to words and music See how things fit together Sense the relationships that are stated, implied, or hinted at in the poet's style. 2. Music and Sound Most poetry in English, until quite recently, has been written in formal ways, hewing to patterns of rhythm and rhyme. When Walt Whitman, in the middle of the 19th century, began writing a new kind of "free" verse, he began the move toward a new kind of poetry. Robert Frost said the new form was like playing tennis with the net down. But Whitman's subtle rhythms, in fact, actually owed a great deal to the Bible, as well as to political speech and operatic song. You learn how all good poems, whether in conventional forms or not, have a strong musical basis and represent a decision by the poet as to which form is most appropriate. Indeed, sound, form, and meaning are all part of the same package. 3. Tone of voice Tone is the subtlest, most elastic, and most difficult thing to "hear" in a poem. We know that misinterpreting tone can create trouble; but you learn that poetry's delicacy of tone is actually a strong asset, rather than a curse. Just because a poem is about a certain subject does not mean it must maintain a prescribed attitude toward that subject. Much of the play of poetry comes from the discrepancy between what we might reasonably expect a poet to say and what is actually said; between the tone we anticipate and the tone that is used. Once again, it was Frost who said over and over that the speaking voice in poetry is the most important thing of all. A Blueprint for Performance ... and for Making It Your Own Professor Spiegelman urges us to remember that a poem is like the script of a play. It is a blueprint for performance. Once you have thought about and read through a poem many times, you will be able to say it in your own way, having decided what to play up and what to play down. As he notes, "Once you have it by heart, it will be as much yours as it is the author's.


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Poetry is the primal literary art form, the oldest and arguably the most supple. For its combination of conciseness and richly suggestive expression, it has no rival. A favorite poem is your friend and companion forever. It can move you, delight you, and enrich your hours of reflection over and over again. Now you can learn to savor poetry-the joys that come from "the best Poetry is the primal literary art form, the oldest and arguably the most supple. For its combination of conciseness and richly suggestive expression, it has no rival. A favorite poem is your friend and companion forever. It can move you, delight you, and enrich your hours of reflection over and over again. Now you can learn to savor poetry-the joys that come from "the best words in the best order"-to a fuller degree than you might otherwise have imagined. Professor Willard Spiegelman's friendly yet sophisticated approach to poetry has been delighting students at SMU for more than 30 years, and he has twice been named an Outstanding Professor there. In these 24 lectures, he invites you to share what he has learned over his distinguished career as a scholar and teacher of literature. Gain New Tools to Enrich Your Appreciation Professor Spiegelman begins with the idea that a thorough understanding of poetic patterns, techniques, habits, and genres will give you the tools you need to increase your own enjoyment of poetry and its insights. Dr. Spiegelman provides you these tools through a careful reading and thoughtful analysis of the outstanding poems discussed in this course. Rejecting the widespread misconception that good poetry must be difficult or arcane, he points out that whatever else it is, poetry is music-in-words. Within every poem speaks a living voice. You don't need to be a professional scholar or critic to develop an excellent ear for poetic music and poetic voices. Have Fun Learning from Our Best-Loved Poets The poems are the heart of this course. These 113 examples span a rich variety of verse forms and all the periods of English literature from the Renaissance to the present. They represent the work of many of our best-loved poets. At two pages or less, most are short enough to be memorized completely or in part with relative ease, so you can leave no line unturned in thinking about them with respect to four questions: What do I notice about this poem? What is odd, quirky, or peculiar about it? What new words do I see, or familiar ones in new situations? Why is it the way it is, and not some other way? If you encounter existing favorite poems here, chances are you'll come away with a fresh and more profound sense of why you liked them so much in the first place. And you'll almost certainly find yourself adding entirely new favorites of your own. You also learn an array of literary insights and reading skills. What Poetry Is: Understanding Three Characteristics In particular, you learn about poetic techniques, patterns, habits, and genres. And you learn the three areas which, taken together, define what distinguishes poetry from other kinds of literature. 1. Figurative language You learn why "figuration"-whether metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, or irony-is the crucial component of poetry. The philosopher Aristotle, for example, who was also the first major Western literary critic, said that of all the gifts necessary for a poet, the gift of metaphor was the most important. If you have everything else, such as a good ear, or a sense for plot or character, but lack the gift of metaphor, you won't be a good poet. If you have that gift, you'll still be a poet even if you lack everything else. The course examines how poets seek to convey an idea or a feeling by representing something in terms of something else. You discover why poetry is at once the most concise literary language ("the best words in the best order," Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it) and the most suggestive. And you see why poetry's combination of concision and suggestiveness requires three things from a reader: Pay close attention to words and music See how things fit together Sense the relationships that are stated, implied, or hinted at in the poet's style. 2. Music and Sound Most poetry in English, until quite recently, has been written in formal ways, hewing to patterns of rhythm and rhyme. When Walt Whitman, in the middle of the 19th century, began writing a new kind of "free" verse, he began the move toward a new kind of poetry. Robert Frost said the new form was like playing tennis with the net down. But Whitman's subtle rhythms, in fact, actually owed a great deal to the Bible, as well as to political speech and operatic song. You learn how all good poems, whether in conventional forms or not, have a strong musical basis and represent a decision by the poet as to which form is most appropriate. Indeed, sound, form, and meaning are all part of the same package. 3. Tone of voice Tone is the subtlest, most elastic, and most difficult thing to "hear" in a poem. We know that misinterpreting tone can create trouble; but you learn that poetry's delicacy of tone is actually a strong asset, rather than a curse. Just because a poem is about a certain subject does not mean it must maintain a prescribed attitude toward that subject. Much of the play of poetry comes from the discrepancy between what we might reasonably expect a poet to say and what is actually said; between the tone we anticipate and the tone that is used. Once again, it was Frost who said over and over that the speaking voice in poetry is the most important thing of all. A Blueprint for Performance ... and for Making It Your Own Professor Spiegelman urges us to remember that a poem is like the script of a play. It is a blueprint for performance. Once you have thought about and read through a poem many times, you will be able to say it in your own way, having decided what to play up and what to play down. As he notes, "Once you have it by heart, it will be as much yours as it is the author's.

30 review for How to Read and Understand Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jared Gillins

    Okay overall. I definitely prefer Robert Greenberg of the music lectures to this lecturer, but I'm glad I listened to these. Honestly, a lot of the more technical bit about meter and such didn't stick with me, but I gleaned some useful ideas about how to read and enjoy poetry: 1. Poetry is an excuse to play with words and language, and to make them do new and interesting things. 2. Poetry takes a little effort to really get it (like reading scripture). You have to think about various aspects of a Okay overall. I definitely prefer Robert Greenberg of the music lectures to this lecturer, but I'm glad I listened to these. Honestly, a lot of the more technical bit about meter and such didn't stick with me, but I gleaned some useful ideas about how to read and enjoy poetry: 1. Poetry is an excuse to play with words and language, and to make them do new and interesting things. 2. Poetry takes a little effort to really get it (like reading scripture). You have to think about various aspects of a poem to appreciate it. (Is the poet doing something interesting with meter? With rhyme? With how certain words are used? With sentence construction? Symbolism? Etc.) 3. It's worth taking time to explore and find poets and poetry that you like. Just like novelists and their novels, just like musicians and their music. Anyway, maybe I could have figured that out without 12 hours of lectures, but I'm still glad I listened.

  2. 4 out of 5

    J.C.

    I don't feel like I've taken a master course on poetry, but rather a sampling of a master course, but I am now a bit more knowledgable on the subject of poetry, at least a little. Which is better than more confusion, let me tell you. I have for most of my life struggled with poetry, but I want to overcome that, hence why I chose this program. I found the choices to be good, the selections interesting, the length of the classes to be perfect for a modern world (if you doze off maybe its time to l I don't feel like I've taken a master course on poetry, but rather a sampling of a master course, but I am now a bit more knowledgable on the subject of poetry, at least a little. Which is better than more confusion, let me tell you. I have for most of my life struggled with poetry, but I want to overcome that, hence why I chose this program. I found the choices to be good, the selections interesting, the length of the classes to be perfect for a modern world (if you doze off maybe its time to lay off the TV), though I could have used a good twenty minutes longer, at times he seems out of breath trying to get all his points said in time. Tip: read the poems ahead of time at least twice. Plus the questions in the manual are handy if you want to do some thinking in your spare time on the individual poetic subjects.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leonard

    I listened to these recorded 30 minute lessons about poetry and was rewarded with an academic college level series of lectures which was very informative and worthwhile to me, as it would be to anyone who loves poetry.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mario Russo

    Really good foundation... very broad, doesn't go deep by any stretch but very pleasant to listen. Recommended if your knowledge of the inner and bolts of poetry is shallow. Really good foundation... very broad, doesn't go deep by any stretch but very pleasant to listen. Recommended if your knowledge of the inner and bolts of poetry is shallow.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marti Martinson

    Only disappointed that the book did not contain the poems he both referenced and read. The CD is a GREAT listen; I've done it several times. Only disappointed that the book did not contain the poems he both referenced and read. The CD is a GREAT listen; I've done it several times.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    Didn't like it. But I have a hard time with most poetry. Didn't like it. But I have a hard time with most poetry.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Fifield

    I listened to this audio book and it was quite good. I could definitely review it again and again and learn something new each time. Overall - a really great review of poetry.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam Lund

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  10. 4 out of 5

    Helen

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kari

  12. 5 out of 5

    Curtis

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  14. 4 out of 5

    Arashk Azizi

  15. 4 out of 5

    G.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Drama Sylum

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charles Bivona

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kiki

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ned

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jork

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe1207

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Hinton

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fred Schultz

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  26. 4 out of 5

    Will Fassbender

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  28. 5 out of 5

    William Trently

  29. 5 out of 5

    James P. Daze

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

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