Why Poetry Matters

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Poetry doesn’t matter to most people, observes Jay Parini at the opening of this book. But, undeterred, he commences a deeply felt meditation on poetry, its language and meaning, and its power to open minds and transform lives. By the end of the book, Parini has recovered a truth often obscured by our clamorous culture: without poetry, we live only partially, not fully conscious of the possibilities that life affords. Poetry indeed matters.

A gifted poet and acclaimed teacher, Parini begins by looking at defenses of poetry written over the centuries. He ponders Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus, and moves on through Sidney, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Eliot, Frost, Stevens, and others. Parini examines the importance of poetic voice and the mysteries of metaphor. He argues that a poet’s originality depends on a deep understanding of the traditions of political poetry, nature poetry, and religious poetry.

Writing with a casual grace, Parini avoids jargon and makes his case in concise, direct terms: the mind of the poet supplies a light to the minds of others, kindling their imaginations, helping them to live their lives. The author’s love of poetry suffuses this insightful book—a volume for all readers interested in a fresh introduction to the art that lies at the center of Western civilization.

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Editorial Reviews

Burlington Free Press

"If you are going to tell Jay Parini that poetry doesn''t matter, you should probably start working on your debate points now—he''s got a lot more."—Jessie Forand, Burlington Free Press

— Jessie Forand

Christopher Benfey

"With gentle insistence, Parini's book makes the case that poetry is worth reading—indeed, that it must be read—especially in a dark time like our own."—Christopher Benfey, author of Degas in New Orleans and The Great Wave

Samuel Pickering

"Jay Parini celebrates not simply poetry but glorious life itself. He shows that poetry can quicken the mind, purge damp melancholy from the cold heart, and spread goldenrod across fallen days."—Samuel Pickering, author of Autumn Spring and Letters to a Teacher

Molly Peacock

"With the light touch and intelligent eye of a great teacher, Jay Parini makes this concise little book a marvel, plumbing the depths of the reasons for poetry and the underpinnings of the art from metaphor to vision, from nature to politics . Beginning with that notorious anti-poet Plato and stopping off for brief conversations with Shelley, Wordsworth, Stevens, Eliot and even Louise Glück, Parini gives us a generous, knowledgeable tour of why poetry matters to us now. Parini is a scintillating guide to the unfathomable, and he will be welcomed both by poets and by anyone intrigued—or baffled—by poetry. This is the perfect hip-pocket compendium of signposts to Poetryland."—Molly Peacock, poet and creative nonfiction writer, author of Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems.

Burlington Free Press - Jessie Forand

"If you are going to tell Jay Parini that poetry doesn't matter, you should probably start working on your debate points now—he's got a lot more."—Jessie Forand, Burlington Free Press
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300124231
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/22/2008
  • Series: Why X Matters Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,320,519
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist, and biographer, is D. E. Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College. Among his many books are five volumes of poetry, most recently The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems. His poems, articles, and reviews appear regularly in such journals as the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Harper’s, Poetry, the New York Times Book Review, the Guardian, and the Times Literary Supplement. He lives in Weybridge, VT.

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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
Defending Poetry     1
Language     23
The Personal Voice     43
The Way of Metaphor     65
Tradition and Originality     79
Form and Freedom     99
The Politics of Poetry     115
A Natural World     133
Divine Parameters: A Reading of Four Quartets     155
Conclusion     177
Notes     183
Acknowledgments     190
Index     191
Credits     205

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