cover image How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse

Thomas C. Foster. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-2113

Literary critic Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor) explicates the fundamentals of reading and understanding poetry in this accessible guide designed for the lay audience. He addresses the common anxieties expressed by readers unfamiliar with poetry (i.e., “I don’t understand it”), and responds with patient and frequently witty explanation. In addition to breaking down essential terminology, the different types of meter, stanzas, sonnets, and so forth, Foster offers insight into the definition of poetry, “an exploration of language” that is simultaneously “the experiment and the laboratory where it takes place.” Foster has chosen his citations well, exploring Langston Hughes’s use of dialect and jazz in a discussion on rhythm, pointing out T.S. Eliot’s ingenious enjambment in “The Waste Land,” and using Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as a catalyst for differentiating a poem’s author from its speaker. His discussion of symbolism is particularly effective and may help readers learn to actually enjoy the experience of interpreting a poem. He does not reference many contemporary poets, however, with the exception of former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, and female poets are underrepresented. However, students struggling to understand poetry, or even English instructors struggling to teach it, could benefit immensely from Foster’s guidance. (Apr.)