Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder

Before I start sharing my feelings on this book I have a question for everyone: What are the best books you’ve read that you just randomly found while browsing a bookstore or a library? I feel like some of my favorite books just happened to be ones I was drawn to on a shelf and not because I’ve heard about it before or because someone recommended it to me.

Recently I’ve been drawn to poetry. Maybe it was Amanda Gorman’s poem at the inauguration, my research into different book awards that lead me to Gwendolyn Brooks, or that a television show has been made based off Emily Dickinson’s life, but poetry seems to be popping up everywhere.

As I was browsing Barnes & Noble one day I came across the poetry section. At first I was going to look for a collection of poems but I didn’t know if I wanted to buy it because I’ve been thinking about how I don’t quite understand poetry. I opened the book to see if it was something I would enjoy and it starts with Zapruder, a poet and the author of this book, saying: “When I tell people I’m a poet the first thing they tell me is that they don’t understand poetry.” I’m glad I’m not the only one Zapruder!

Regardless of how plainspoken or strange, how realistic or elusive or symbolic or metaphoric the poem is, in order to have any meaningful experience with it all, the reader must first read very carefully and closely, and think about what the words mean. A good dictionary is almost always all that is necessary.

So if my purpose is to get into poetry, why not learn about it first? This book won’t teach you about different types of poetry, but rather why people read and write it. Zapruder does a brilliant job of using different poems to explain how writers use language to craft something that is different from anything else and how your mind changes its thinking the more you read poetry,

The excitement of intuitively and attentively moving from one idea or object to another, and in doing so discovering connections one did not consciously realize were there before, is a great pleasure of reading and writing poetry. Poems are the place where we can feel free to make those connections.

There are some concepts I am still not clear on like “negative capability,” but then there are some concepts I adore, like how poets can use a meaning of a word that hasn’t been used in a long time to create a different version of an idea they are trying to communicate. Zapruder put a lot of thought into his book and I know people who read it will be able to relate to many of his ideas. It is very enlightening and very much worth the read.

The story is often told as if, in the good old days, everyone wrote poetry that rhymed (which is why everyone read it), but now that poets have given up and starting writing free verse, it’s not real poetry anymore. This is an anachronistic fantasy.

In 1855, Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, and it changed American poetry forever. Leaves of Grass contained poems that neither rhymed nor had a regular, repeating metrical pattern.

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