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An illuminating look at the many forms of poetry's essential excellence by James Longenbach, a writer with "an ear as subtle and assured as any American poet now writing" (John Koethe) "This book proposes some of the virtues to which the next poem might aspire: boldness, change, compression, dilation, doubt, excess, inevitability, intimacy, otherness, particularity, restrai An illuminating look at the many forms of poetry's essential excellence by James Longenbach, a writer with "an ear as subtle and assured as any American poet now writing" (John Koethe) "This book proposes some of the virtues to which the next poem might aspire: boldness, change, compression, dilation, doubt, excess, inevitability, intimacy, otherness, particularity, restraint, shyness, surprise, and worldliness. The word ‘virtue' came to English from Latin, via Old French, and while it has acquired a moral valence, the word in its earliest uses gestured toward a magical or transcendental power, a power that might be embodied by any particular substance or act. With vices I am not concerned. Unlike the short-term history of taste, which is fueled by reprimand or correction, the history of art moves from achievement to achievement. Contemporary embodiments of poetry's virtues abound, and only our devotion to a long history of excellence allows us to recognize them." –from James Longenbach's preface The Virtues of Poetry is a resplendent and ultimately moving work of twelve interconnected essays, each of which describes the way in which a particular excellence is enacted in poetry. Longenbach closely reads poems by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Keats, Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, Bishop, and Ashbery (among others), sometimes exploring the ways in which these writers transmuted the material of their lives into art, and always emphasizing that the notions of excellence we derive from art are fluid, never fixed. Provocative, funny, and astute, The Virtues of Poetry is indispensable for readers, teachers, and writers. Longenbach reminds us that poetry delivers meaning in exacting ways, and that it is through its precision that we experience this art's lasting virtues.


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An illuminating look at the many forms of poetry's essential excellence by James Longenbach, a writer with "an ear as subtle and assured as any American poet now writing" (John Koethe) "This book proposes some of the virtues to which the next poem might aspire: boldness, change, compression, dilation, doubt, excess, inevitability, intimacy, otherness, particularity, restrai An illuminating look at the many forms of poetry's essential excellence by James Longenbach, a writer with "an ear as subtle and assured as any American poet now writing" (John Koethe) "This book proposes some of the virtues to which the next poem might aspire: boldness, change, compression, dilation, doubt, excess, inevitability, intimacy, otherness, particularity, restraint, shyness, surprise, and worldliness. The word ‘virtue' came to English from Latin, via Old French, and while it has acquired a moral valence, the word in its earliest uses gestured toward a magical or transcendental power, a power that might be embodied by any particular substance or act. With vices I am not concerned. Unlike the short-term history of taste, which is fueled by reprimand or correction, the history of art moves from achievement to achievement. Contemporary embodiments of poetry's virtues abound, and only our devotion to a long history of excellence allows us to recognize them." –from James Longenbach's preface The Virtues of Poetry is a resplendent and ultimately moving work of twelve interconnected essays, each of which describes the way in which a particular excellence is enacted in poetry. Longenbach closely reads poems by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Keats, Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, Bishop, and Ashbery (among others), sometimes exploring the ways in which these writers transmuted the material of their lives into art, and always emphasizing that the notions of excellence we derive from art are fluid, never fixed. Provocative, funny, and astute, The Virtues of Poetry is indispensable for readers, teachers, and writers. Longenbach reminds us that poetry delivers meaning in exacting ways, and that it is through its precision that we experience this art's lasting virtues.

30 review for The Virtues of Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Tyler

    This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to read poetry a little bit more intelligently and emotionally. It is not written for academics. Longenbach uses excellent examples which he explicates intelligently, amusingly, and with great insight. Longenbach is an accomplished poet himself and this book reveals his acumen and perspicacity. I highly recommend it, and I also recommend his poetry.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Fredrickson

    This book is an excellent discussion a variety of poets, and covers some of the choices and strategies that these poets have used to attain the effects they desired. The poetic devices that are covered include meter, shifting use of tense, the stance that a poet takes, and other techniques as well. Each fairly short chapter is thematic, and addresses at least one poet, but more often uses several poets, each contrasted with another whose differing (or similar) style is illustrative of the chapte This book is an excellent discussion a variety of poets, and covers some of the choices and strategies that these poets have used to attain the effects they desired. The poetic devices that are covered include meter, shifting use of tense, the stance that a poet takes, and other techniques as well. Each fairly short chapter is thematic, and addresses at least one poet, but more often uses several poets, each contrasted with another whose differing (or similar) style is illustrative of the chapter's theme. Lowell and Bishop are discussed together for a variety of reasons. Longenbach also explains the context in which the poets are operating, as they often had an agenda in their work - Pound's Cantos are a case in point. I struggled with some of the material in this book. I suspect that there is just no way to read a poet like Marvell, Donne, or Dickinson (all discussed in the book) without putting forth some serious effort. Whether the poems use "muscular syntax" or just reference their material in very oblique ways, some of the poetry included here is difficult. Nonetheless, the book does an excellent job of discussing the poems, poets, and their technique in a clear and interesting way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Wasserman

    some good thoughts on select authors. Longenbach is not a good essayist, abstract, awful lexical choices, dwells in his own thoughts so much that it is unlikely to promote interest in the reader to continue reading. Its no surprise that in the chapter bad writing he uses beethoven's opus 110 and l'avventura as example of misguided art, but it is certainly bad writing and bad argumentation to use examples that arent poems, and are less likely to be known offhand by the reader.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I feel like I understood just enough of this to make it worth reading. And it was.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Hultberg

    I enjoy this book and will repeatedly turn to it as a high school English teacher as a reminder of how to speak elegantly and imaginatively about poems. Longenbach selects lovely examples from a wide range of poetry, speaking of each succinctly, focusing on one or two helpful keys that open up each poem and let it breathe, so that we can see a facet otherwise unnoticed. I used his style as a model recently in several classes for how to write insightfully about poetry. What we need is a resurgen I enjoy this book and will repeatedly turn to it as a high school English teacher as a reminder of how to speak elegantly and imaginatively about poems. Longenbach selects lovely examples from a wide range of poetry, speaking of each succinctly, focusing on one or two helpful keys that open up each poem and let it breathe, so that we can see a facet otherwise unnoticed. I used his style as a model recently in several classes for how to write insightfully about poetry. What we need is a resurgence of appreciation for the poem, for the pure enjoyment lyric poetry offers. This book celebrates the enjoyment of poetry, and informs me to see as a poet sees. If presses like GrayWolf keep publishing poetry as well as books that support its enjoyment, may they continue to thrive.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    This collections offered many essays that were surprisingly deep given their brevity. I especially enjoyed his look at restraint and excess in some poems by Whitman and Dickinson, the discussion of reticence/confession in Bishop and Lowell, and some great stuff about King Lear and how fine poems embody the process of the self in the act of discovery. It made me want to reread Wallace Stevens, as well. Thoughtful, careful use of close reading within historical and cultural context. I really enjoy This collections offered many essays that were surprisingly deep given their brevity. I especially enjoyed his look at restraint and excess in some poems by Whitman and Dickinson, the discussion of reticence/confession in Bishop and Lowell, and some great stuff about King Lear and how fine poems embody the process of the self in the act of discovery. It made me want to reread Wallace Stevens, as well. Thoughtful, careful use of close reading within historical and cultural context. I really enjoy Longenbach's prose style; this was just as much a pleasure to read as his study of line-ends in Greywolf's _The Art of_ series.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Furtado

    I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. While I expected a book that would superficially defend the beauty and complexity of poetry, this text turned out to be an in-depth piece of scholarship. Logenbach both imaginatively and critically examines the works of canonical writers such as Eliot, Dickinson, Pound, and others, revealing to readers not only how poets execute their works with deliberateness and precision, but also why they choose to do so. Poetry scholars will I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. While I expected a book that would superficially defend the beauty and complexity of poetry, this text turned out to be an in-depth piece of scholarship. Logenbach both imaginatively and critically examines the works of canonical writers such as Eliot, Dickinson, Pound, and others, revealing to readers not only how poets execute their works with deliberateness and precision, but also why they choose to do so. Poetry scholars will revel in Logenbach's enthusiastic assessments and observations regarding a handful of the most brilliant minds that have worked in this craft.

  8. 5 out of 5

    World Literature Today

    "Like a man who takes clocks apart for the sheer joy of showing us the marvelous ways in which they work, James Longenbach displays a great talent for insightful close reading, a process through which he reveals the inner workings of a poem in ways that augment rather than diminish our wonder in reading it." - Benjamin Myers, Oklahoma Baptist University This book was reviewed in the May 2013 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our site: http://bit.ly/10GhQdS "Like a man who takes clocks apart for the sheer joy of showing us the marvelous ways in which they work, James Longenbach displays a great talent for insightful close reading, a process through which he reveals the inner workings of a poem in ways that augment rather than diminish our wonder in reading it." - Benjamin Myers, Oklahoma Baptist University This book was reviewed in the May 2013 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our site: http://bit.ly/10GhQdS

  9. 4 out of 5

    False

    I didn't take away much from this book. I am in accord with much that he says, especially of seeking the mystery in the mundane, which I tend to do. I did like the quote he used at the beginning of the book: "The source of poetry is always a mystery, an inspiration, a charged perplexity in the face of the irrational--unknown territory. But the act of poetry--if one may make a distinction here, separating the flame from the fuel--is an absolute determination to see clearly, to reduce to reason, to I didn't take away much from this book. I am in accord with much that he says, especially of seeking the mystery in the mundane, which I tend to do. I did like the quote he used at the beginning of the book: "The source of poetry is always a mystery, an inspiration, a charged perplexity in the face of the irrational--unknown territory. But the act of poetry--if one may make a distinction here, separating the flame from the fuel--is an absolute determination to see clearly, to reduce to reason, to know. ~~Cesare Pavese

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    A book of inspiring levels I'm not a poetic person but I am glad to have read this The Virtues of Poetry A book of inspiring levels I'm not a poetic person but I am glad to have read this The Virtues of Poetry

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Orman

    Some of those virtues are boldness, doubt, excess, intimacy, and surprise. All that and more is explained in this small book of explanatory text and poetic examples. The act of poetry creation is said to be seeing clearly and to know.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Some easy-to-digest poetry criticism. Longenback offers an insightful reading of a number of modern poems following his guide to the different virtues contained in poetry.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom Thompson

    Lovely long view of the thinking-through poems make

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    808.1 L852 2013

  15. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin Zaini

    Some refrences are hard to follow, so this book isn't really for everyone.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Beautiful, affirming book. I will return to it over and over.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Roy Heidelberg

  18. 4 out of 5

    T Fool

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mary-Marcia

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Linton

  21. 5 out of 5

    Suzibookworm

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kay

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Farrell

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Ann B Chambers

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shari

  28. 4 out of 5

    Abby

  29. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Luse

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