Synopses & Reviews
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.
"This debut from New York Times Book Review poetry columnist Orr is equal parts friendly invitation for the uniniti-ated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry for the uninitiated and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene, on which Orr has an unusual vantage point, being one of the only poetry critics with a wide readership, while also being a poet himself. Divided into six chapters --with titles like 'The Personal,' 'The Fishbowl,' and 'Why Bother?'-- which, for Orr, are revealing windows into how poetry workds and why it is, and isn't, important, the book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric. Orr manages to make plain the reasoning behind, say, poetic form (which, Orr says, 'can be compared to a game.... Think, for example, about baseball') or the changing social structure of the poetry world ('It's more of a guild now than a country club'), while also saying plenty of things that will make poets take a good long look in the mirror. Finally, Orr wants to levelheadedly emphasize that poetry isn't intrinsically special or holy, but that shouldn't take away from the importance it holds, or could hold, in many people's lives: 'I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful.' (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orrs a critic, and a good one. . . . Beautiful & Pointless
is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar." —Tom Perrotta
Award-winning New York Times Book Review poetry columnist David Orr delivers an engaging, amusing, and stimulating tour through the world of poetry. With echoes of Francine Proses Reading Like a Writer, Orrs Beautiful & Pointless offers a smart and funny approach to appreciating an art form that many find difficult to embrace.
About the Author
David Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review. He is the winner of the Nona Balakian prize from the National Book Critics Circle and the Editors Prize for Book Reviewing from Poetry magazine. Orr's writing has appeared in Slate, Poetry, The Believer, and Pleiades magazines. He holds a BA from Princeton and a JD from Yale Law School.