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A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry

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A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry guides the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in his or her life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. Using such poems as Theodore Roethke’s "My Papa’s Waltz" and Robert Hayden’s "Those Winter Sundays," the Primer encourages young writers to approach their "thresholds"—those places A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry guides the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in his or her life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. Using such poems as Theodore Roethke’s "My Papa’s Waltz" and Robert Hayden’s "Those Winter Sundays," the Primer encourages young writers to approach their "thresholds"—those places where disorder meets order, where shaping imagination can turn language into urgent and persuasive poems. It provides the poet with more than a dozen focused writing exercises and explains essential topics such as the personal and cultural threshold; the four forces that animate poetic language (naming, singing, saying, imagining); tactics of revision; ecstasy and engagement as motives for poetry; and how to locate and learn from our personal poetic forebears.


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A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry guides the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in his or her life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. Using such poems as Theodore Roethke’s "My Papa’s Waltz" and Robert Hayden’s "Those Winter Sundays," the Primer encourages young writers to approach their "thresholds"—those places A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry guides the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in his or her life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. Using such poems as Theodore Roethke’s "My Papa’s Waltz" and Robert Hayden’s "Those Winter Sundays," the Primer encourages young writers to approach their "thresholds"—those places where disorder meets order, where shaping imagination can turn language into urgent and persuasive poems. It provides the poet with more than a dozen focused writing exercises and explains essential topics such as the personal and cultural threshold; the four forces that animate poetic language (naming, singing, saying, imagining); tactics of revision; ecstasy and engagement as motives for poetry; and how to locate and learn from our personal poetic forebears.

30 review for A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Gregory Orr is the founder of the MFA program at the Univ. of Virginia, so I guess this means he decided to write his own "Introduction to Poetry" book for student readers and writers, but you needn't be a student to appreciate his plain speaking (something that's always appreciated in Poetry World). The book stops for creative writing exercises, but I sort of skimmed over those (hey, I'm auditing this course!). My hands are full with my own assignments. That said, you might enjoy them if you're Gregory Orr is the founder of the MFA program at the Univ. of Virginia, so I guess this means he decided to write his own "Introduction to Poetry" book for student readers and writers, but you needn't be a student to appreciate his plain speaking (something that's always appreciated in Poetry World). The book stops for creative writing exercises, but I sort of skimmed over those (hey, I'm auditing this course!). My hands are full with my own assignments. That said, you might enjoy them if you're an aspiring poet or even an established one. For starters, Orr gives a pep talk on letting it rip when it comes to writing. Block? That's for sun sauce, baby. When it comes to writing, first drafts are places to spill. You can pick through the wreckage later (garbage picking always yields treasure, after all). Next he distinguishes between narrative and lyric poems, giving characteristics and examples of both. In his view, narrative often needs MORE during revision and lyric LESS. From here he divides poetry's essentials into four parts: Naming, Singing, Saying, and Imagining. Naming is where your powerful vocabulary comes in. If you're writing about what you know (or even attempting to write about something you've never experienced), you'd better know what things are called. Specific nouns and action verbs are king and queen of the land, after all. Adjectives and adverbs? Not so much. Orr's exception is color words. Singing brings us to the music of poetry. Orr reads all his poems aloud and says you should too. In the poet's conservatory you'll find such tools as rhythm and meter, diction, vowel pitch, assonance, consonance, incantation, syntax, anaphora, and other tricks of the ear trade. All together now on Middle C! Saying goes into pronouncements. Acting like you own the place. The way certain lines of poetry are memorable because they seem so wise and deep. I'm just saying. And finally Imagining, which is a love song to metaphor. Nothing like a good metaphor, but there's something about bad ones and mixed ones and tired ones. Beware, in other words, but know that this is an essential tool of every good poet. A lot of the example poems are from OBG's like Walt Whitman (heavily), Miss Emily, WB Yeats, Theodore Roethke, T.S. Eliot, and Pablo Neruda. This may be because getting permissions from more modern poets is a royal (royalty?) pain, so the go-to for books like this is the public domain. Enjoyable, overall, and suitable for folks who want to learn more about poetry OR who know a lot about it but want to get some inside tips and drills. Good for strictly readers of poetry and good for writers of poetry (who of course read poetry). One of the better ones of this ilk, when all's said and done (and for me, it is).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Surya V.n

    கவிதையின் அடிப்படைகள், அதன் மொழி, வாசகனுக்கும் கவிதைக்குமான தொடர்பு என பகுதி பகுதியாக எளிமையான மொழியில் உதாரணங்களுடன் விளக்கும் நூல். எழுதியவரும் கவிஞர்தான். Naming, Singing, Saying, Imagining (அதாவது மொழிவளம், இசைமை, தரிசனம், புனைவு) என கவிதையின் மொழியைக் குறிப்பிடுகிறார். இது எனக்கு சுவாரசியமாக இருந்தது. மற்றபடி இது Creative writing மாணவர்களுக்கான நூல். அதன் நிறை குறைகள்(homework கொடுப்பது etc) இரண்டுமே உண்டு. கவிதையியலில் ஆர்வம் உள்ளவர்கள் தவறவிடக்கூடாத புத்தகம்.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mary Kenyon

    A must read for poets, aspiring poets, or anyone interested in poetry. As Orr says "sooner or later you have to read lots of poems in order to develop as a poet." I'd add that anyone who writes poetry should read plenty of books like this in order to grow as a writer. A must read for poets, aspiring poets, or anyone interested in poetry. As Orr says "sooner or later you have to read lots of poems in order to develop as a poet." I'd add that anyone who writes poetry should read plenty of books like this in order to grow as a writer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    K.T.

    I am sorry I cannot give this book more than five stars. It is both rigorous and kind. It fad already changed my writing life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard Subber

    Wannabe poets: look somewhere else… I’m a poet and I read lots of poetry. If you have some interest in poetry, and if you don’t know much about it, don’t read this book. Primer for Poets is a disappointment to me. Apparently it was written as a textbook for college freshmen taking a course in poetry or literature. It is formulaic. It offers exercises in constructing poems using a random sequence of phrases. It attributes imaginary meaning and structure to poetry. It is a self-satisfied reflection on Wannabe poets: look somewhere else… I’m a poet and I read lots of poetry. If you have some interest in poetry, and if you don’t know much about it, don’t read this book. Primer for Poets is a disappointment to me. Apparently it was written as a textbook for college freshmen taking a course in poetry or literature. It is formulaic. It offers exercises in constructing poems using a random sequence of phrases. It attributes imaginary meaning and structure to poetry. It is a self-satisfied reflection on grand points that have little to do, specifically, with individual poems, and it begs the question: is it possible to state a categorical, collective description of “poetry?” I’ll mention that Primer for Poets has a 12-page glossary—it’s useful, but it’s not unique. Orr devotes too much effort to the hopeless task of explaining how poetry embraces the “threshold” between “order” and “disorder.” He goes on and on (make sure you underline this in your notes, you are taking notes, right?) about “naming, singing, saying, and imagining” as elements of the poet’s craft. Orr makes sure you don’t fail to understand that “ecstasy and engagement” are essential for making words “come alive in poems.” Indulge me. I think it’s possible to encourage a wannabe poet. I think it’s possible to mentor a wannabe poet by critiquing and exploring her work. I don’t think it’s credible to write a book that will teach poetry writing. Poetry can be literature, of course. Literature is by definition a collection of works in the public domain. Nevertheless, poetry is a granular art form. Poets create themselves. Each poem is unique. Read more of my book reviews and poems here: www.richardsubber.com

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Won this through a goodreads giveaway and it's really fantastic. The author does an amazing job, explaining various poetry terms such as rhyme, meter, consonance, syntax and naming. Orr writes in a way that is understandable, relatable, and intriguing. He makes it so reading and writing poetry, feels accessible to any reader. I've always just been a reader of poetry not really a writer, but with the several writing exercises that are included in the book, I've started to write more then I ever t Won this through a goodreads giveaway and it's really fantastic. The author does an amazing job, explaining various poetry terms such as rhyme, meter, consonance, syntax and naming. Orr writes in a way that is understandable, relatable, and intriguing. He makes it so reading and writing poetry, feels accessible to any reader. I've always just been a reader of poetry not really a writer, but with the several writing exercises that are included in the book, I've started to write more then I ever thought I could. Highly recommend this book!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Briseno

    I am an English teacher now finishing up my 11th year in education. I've always loved poetry but have been too trepidatious to write it. Greg Orr's book really helped me see the parts of poetry, what poetry can be, how you mine for ideas, and how you refocus those ideas once you're done. After reading this book and committing to the writing prompts throughout--which are awesome-- I've written ten poems. It's meaty, thinky, and all-around great writing instruction! Pick it up if you're wanting to I am an English teacher now finishing up my 11th year in education. I've always loved poetry but have been too trepidatious to write it. Greg Orr's book really helped me see the parts of poetry, what poetry can be, how you mine for ideas, and how you refocus those ideas once you're done. After reading this book and committing to the writing prompts throughout--which are awesome-- I've written ten poems. It's meaty, thinky, and all-around great writing instruction! Pick it up if you're wanting to up your poetry game!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yvette

    Gregory Orr offers wonderful insight into the powerful role poetry plays in the lives of the reader and writer. His straightforward and original approach stimulates fresh ideas for every novice or veteran. He provides several examples of poetry and a dozen writing exercises to help his readers breathe life into stagnant thoughts and words. Orr encourages all students of poetry to untangle the binds, free the chaos, and wrestle the wild beast long enough to write your own "dancing star." A must-h Gregory Orr offers wonderful insight into the powerful role poetry plays in the lives of the reader and writer. His straightforward and original approach stimulates fresh ideas for every novice or veteran. He provides several examples of poetry and a dozen writing exercises to help his readers breathe life into stagnant thoughts and words. Orr encourages all students of poetry to untangle the binds, free the chaos, and wrestle the wild beast long enough to write your own "dancing star." A must-have for all lovers of poetry!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zroji Tred

    The exercises in this book are really helpful and I love the author's approach to poetry. I appreciate the fact that he directs his words not only to the seasoned poetry consumers but also the beginners and the intimidated. A good read and full of insightful information. Poetry is a way of life, a lens into one's self through music, lyric and imagination. Orr focuses on this and gives the readers the tools we need for our quest to find ourselves through poetry. The exercises in this book are really helpful and I love the author's approach to poetry. I appreciate the fact that he directs his words not only to the seasoned poetry consumers but also the beginners and the intimidated. A good read and full of insightful information. Poetry is a way of life, a lens into one's self through music, lyric and imagination. Orr focuses on this and gives the readers the tools we need for our quest to find ourselves through poetry.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    Gregg Orr writes about poetry in a way that satisfies both novice poets and poets who have been writing for a long time: his prose is clear and his notions about poetry are insightful and clear. He brings his years of experience as a reader and writer to the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    I am taking a poetry writing class this semester since my university does not have a songwriting class. This book honestly is a nice introduction to anyone interested in writing poetry. Though, some things I disagree with Orr on, most of his suggestions were useful. I think that it's a nice start. I am taking a poetry writing class this semester since my university does not have a songwriting class. This book honestly is a nice introduction to anyone interested in writing poetry. Though, some things I disagree with Orr on, most of his suggestions were useful. I think that it's a nice start.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Justin Hoste

    Definitely a book for beginners. However, that doesn't mean veteran poets have nothing to learn in these pages. Orr does a great job presenting poetry in an accessible yet thoughtful and well laid out introduction to why poets love poetry and the inner fire that prompts them to write. Definitely a book for beginners. However, that doesn't mean veteran poets have nothing to learn in these pages. Orr does a great job presenting poetry in an accessible yet thoughtful and well laid out introduction to why poets love poetry and the inner fire that prompts them to write.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Excellent as intro to poetry or as a refresher. Orr's basic theory is that poetry lives in the chaos between order and disorder and the poetic moment is the threshold of that chaos. First time reading Orr. Good stuff. Excellent as intro to poetry or as a refresher. Orr's basic theory is that poetry lives in the chaos between order and disorder and the poetic moment is the threshold of that chaos. First time reading Orr. Good stuff.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Mcpherson

    It took me about a year to read this, because I savored every word. What a joy to read during this difficult time or any time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lars Larson

    A workbook of exactly what the title says

  16. 4 out of 5

    Archana

    Clear, fun, inspiring, optimistic... read it and then go out and write!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Wolff

    The best primer I've read. Orr details not only poetic theory, but the psychology behind the creation of a poem. The best primer I've read. Orr details not only poetic theory, but the psychology behind the creation of a poem.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The author has written poetry and taught poets his whole career. A unique discussion about and approach to poetry. Includes examples from many different types of poetry (though most or maybe all white male). I rarely like writing prompts and really enjoyed the writing exercises in this book. I would reread this but there are many other books I want to read before I do. If you enjoy reading or writing poetry I got a lot out of this book and would suggest it. I really enjoyed my time with the auth The author has written poetry and taught poets his whole career. A unique discussion about and approach to poetry. Includes examples from many different types of poetry (though most or maybe all white male). I rarely like writing prompts and really enjoyed the writing exercises in this book. I would reread this but there are many other books I want to read before I do. If you enjoy reading or writing poetry I got a lot out of this book and would suggest it. I really enjoyed my time with the author.

  19. 5 out of 5

    anhaga sae

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jay

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ed Gaudet

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lara

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maria Berg

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aunt Beast

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Abrams

  26. 5 out of 5

    Taro Hyodo

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amelia deGuzman

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mallory Rodenberg

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