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Saturday, March 31st, 2007
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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

by Stephen Fry

The Ode Beckons

A review by Carrie Uffindell

"I believe poetry is a primal impulse within us all," Stephen Fry declares in his new book, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within. Anyone who can speak and read English can write poetry. "Poetry is made of the same stuff you are reading now, the same stuff you use to order pizza over the phone."

A British novelist, comedian, and actor, Stephen Fry's work includes The Hippopotamus (a wonderfully naughty romp), The Liar, and Making History, plus well-known film and television roles in Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster, Gosford Park, and V for Vendetta. Most importantly for this review, Fry is also an avid poetry enthusiast, a frequent judge of poetry contests, and an amateur poet himself.

So why do so many of us avoid the study of technique and form in poetry? Perhaps it is because of a traumatic experience in English class, or the belief that poetry is free verse and can only be written by the experts. Not so, argues Fry. After all, not all painters or musicians are great artists or talents. They are also hobbyists who enjoy these pursuits outside of work, family, and friends. They do it for fun, for enjoyment just like the amateur poet. All they lack are the tools, confidence, and the three Golden Rules: Take your time, don't be afraid, and always carry a notebook.

"I cannot teach you how to be a great poet or even a good one....But I can show you how to have fun with the modes and forms of poetry as they have developed over the years. By the time you have read this book you will be able to write a Petrarchan sonnet, a Sapphic Ode, a ballade, a villanelle, and a Spenserian stanza, among other weird and delightful forms; you will be confident with metre, rhyme and much else besides."

With this promise in mind, Fry escorts the reader through a lively, well-organized, and straightforward course on meter, rhyme, form, diction, and poetics today. Witty anecdotes and example poems are interjected into each section, which are punctuated by challenging yet enjoyable exercises, many of which Fry completes, as well. This is a funny and inspirational touch for the reader, who will probably find themselves laughing and reciting passages out loud, much to the amused annoyance of unsuspecting onlookers.

The Ode Less Travelled is an excellent book for aspiring poets wishing to learn more about the forms and techniques of prosody.


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