Faculty Bookshelf

Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

  • Published Date: Harper Perennial, 2011

David Orr

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For most readers, contemporary poetry is a foreign country. And because they’ve barely visited poetry, let alone lived there, readers struggle to enjoy the art for what it is, rather than what they imagine it to be.

In Beautiful & Pointless, award-winning critic David Orr provides a riveting tour of poetry as it actually exists today. Orr argues that readers should accept the foreignness of poetry in the way that they accept the strangeness of any place to which they haven’t traveled—that they should expect a little confusion, at least at first. Yet in the same way that we can, over time, learn to appreciate the idiosyncratic delights of (for instance) Belgium, we can learn to be comfortable with the odd pleasures of poetry by taking our time and reading what we like.

Reading poetry, Orr suggests, is more a matter of building a relationship than proceeding systematically through a checklist. Beautiful & Pointless provides the foundation for such a relationship by discussing things poets and poetry readers talk about when they discuss poetry, such as why poetry seems especially personal, and what it means to write “in form.” Orr, by turns acerbic, incisive, hilarious and keen, is what every reader hopes for: that perfect guide who points the way, doesn’t talk too much, and helps you see what you might have missed. Beautiful & Pointless, ultimately, attempts to let us see how an individual reader reads poetry, so that we might feel better equipped to read it in our own way for ourselves.