Adding a humorous twist to the relatively difficult task of writing poetry, Fry has assembled a helpful guide for even the most confused student of poetry, from learning how to read a poem to writing one. The simple truth is that some of the most unexpected people write poetry and there are basic rules to guide anyone willing to, spend the time perusing Fry’s helpful suggestions.
Anticipating the usual excuses for delay, Fry has three golden rules: take your time (“you can never read a poem too slowly, but you can certainly read one too fast!”); avoid over-thinking what you are reading (“poems are not crossword puzzles”); and invest in a notebook - carry it everywhere, the only equipment necessary for the task at hand. Thus prepared, the journey begins, Stephen Fry the experienced guide through a morass of rules and definitions.
The author emphasizes that there is no mystery to writing poetry, offering helpful chapters on “Metre”, “Rhyme”, “Form”, and “Diction and Poetics Today.” Going beyond the obvious, Fry gives special attention to the seemingly arcane details that can derail even the most enthusiastic poet - for example, the unusual jargon and technical vocabulary that accompanies a serious discussion of poetry.
One of the most difficult areas of study is metre, and Fry expends considerable effort on the intricacies of rhythm, pentameter, beats per line, etc., each chapter followed by helpful exercises to test the effectiveness of the lesson for the poet. To rhyme or not to rhyme offers yet another challenge, as does the selection of form, from stanza (and its variations) to ballad, verse, ode, haiku and sonnet.
There is literally no aspect of the art left unexplored, but the reward for diligent study comes in later chapters, where Fry expounds on the appropriate language of poetry, the obvious pitfalls when writing poetry and the vices that lurk throughout. Wagging his literary finger, the author warns of a temptation toward laziness, which spawns a number of other problems: vanity, sentimentality, self-indulgence, technical flaws and an absence of original thought.
Some valuable suggestions: read poetry out loud; consider your audience; maintain a journal for thoughts, inspired lines and ideas; immerse yourself in the poetry of others; and don’t be intimidated by mistakes.
Taking all the rules and guidelines to heart, there is a temptation to adhere to the rigorous attention to detail involved, but at no time should rules be a substitute for passion. The author encourages the writer to color outside the lines when the heart of the poem is at stake: paying due respect to the process, embracing form and dimension, the poet must ever be aware of the power of emotion. An excellent and fascinating guide to “unlocking the poet within.”