My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There were a hundred bright spots in this eloquent book: beautiful, essential quotes about poetry from the greatest poets themselves. These were a shortcut straight to the heart of poetry. There were other bright spots of Zapruder’s own clear explanations of the mysterious power of poetry. It’s just that as a whole, it failed to carry the reader along with elegance and enthusiasm, and failed to provide much in the way of a conclusion at the end.
For a truly elegant book on poetry that is as poetic, moving, and inspired as the poem it contains, read Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination. It is the best book defending and explaining poetry that I have ever read (and, what’s more, it includes poems from all eras, not just contemporary poetry.)
Nonetheless, I flagged a hundred bright spots to keep as treasured quotes from Zapruder’s work and I truly benefitted from my time in his company. He gave a lot of courage to an aspiring amateur poet, and for that I am grateful. I loved how he embraced the mysterious machinery of poetry but still took care to explain to those who are less wise to its ways. But to claim that your books explains “why poetry” exists and is useful, then to end with such a nihilistic understanding of the universe was a real let-down, and the book didn’t carry me with its own momentum so much as I forced myself to keep trudging through it in the hopes of encountering more bright spots of insight from Zapruder and his many favorite thinkers.
Paul Valery: “A poem is really a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words…If the term machine shocks you, if my mechanical comparison seems crude, please notice that while the composition of even a very short poem may absorb years, the action of the poem on the reader will take only a few minutes. IN a few minutes, the reader will receive his shock from discoveries, connections, glimmers of expression that have been accumulating during months of research, waiting, patience, and impatience” (11).
“Saying it more conventionally would take the shimmering multiplicity out of the line” (34).
“What is the poem ‘about’? This question inevitably carries within in the implicit message that the poem is beautiful (at best) container for something more essential than the experience of reading it. Really, when a poem is functioning, it could best be said to be ‘about’ ‘aboutness’–that is, ‘about’ the wordless moment we can only be brought to through words, when we perceive the contradictory yet harmonious significance of everything” (113).
Yeats “We make out of the quarrels with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrels with ourselves, poetry” (121).
Frost: “Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere….You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history” (151).
Wallace Stevens: “Reality is a cliche from which we escape by metaphor” (154).
“Without clarity, it is not possible to have true mystery” (190).
“One of the things readers truly love about poetry, this ability to hear wisdom that feels truly wise and yet also disembodied, as though it comes from the world itself” (194).
“But I think we would be better off to think of ‘understanding’ a poem as an ongoing process of attention” (199).
“(A poet’s job) is, in a way, to refuse to do what others find useful, in order to leave a space for other things to happen. Poets are alchemists of nothingness. They aspire to turn silence, nothingness, absence, into something palpable” (208).