cover image Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry

David Orr. Harper, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-167345-0

This debut from New York Times Book Review poetry columnist Orr is equal parts friendly invitation for the uniniti-ated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry for the uninitiated and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene, on which Orr has an unusual vantage point, being one of the only poetry critics with a wide readership, while also being a poet himself. Divided into six chapters%E2%80%94--with titles like "The Personal," "The Fishbowl," and "Why Bother?"--%E2%80%94which, for Orr, are revealing windows into how poetry workds and why it is, and isn%E2%80%99t, important, the book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric. Orr manages to make plain the reasoning behind, say, poetic form (which, Orr says, "can be compared to a game.... Think, for example, about baseball") or the changing social structure of the poetry world ("It%E2%80%99s more of a guild now than a country club"), while also saying plenty of things that will make poets take a good long look in the mirror. Finally, Orr wants to levelheadedly emphasize that poetry isn%E2%80%99t intrinsically special or holy, but that shouldn%E2%80%99t take away from the importance it holds, or could hold, in many people%E2%80%99s lives: "I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful." (Apr.)