Friday, 29 January 2010

'The ode less travelled', by Stephen Fry

My friend Clem lent me this book at least a year ago, but I dared not use it properly, since Stephen Fry urges the reader to write in the book, such as marking up the stresses on samples of Iambic Pentameter. So I bought my own copy, and have been happily defacing it. I confess not to have done all the exercises he urges us to do, but I can come back to this book again and again. This is not the sort of book to sit down to read cover to cover. Indeed, it is a manual to turn us into poets, and so is a reference book and an inspiration to be used over time.

At this point I have not read it all. But I thought it worth reporting in my reviews now to praise Mr Fry. He is evidently a hugely intelligent person, belying the plumy image he sometimes conveys on TV. This book is startlingly original and he is the perfect person to write it. He has little time for the ‘inspirational’ approach to poetry, urging children to write down their feelings in free verse. I had that at school, and am actually grateful for it (thanks Mr Barton). However I now acknowledge that us schoolchildren were not taught the craft of writing poetry. Mr Fry is very old-fashioned in that respect, and you realise he is completely right. One needs to know the technical tools of any trade.

So he sets out to thoroughly educate us in Metre, Rhyme, Verse Form and Diction. My conscientiously reading this book you will be able to impress your friends with a knowledge of Iambs, Dactyls, Trochees, Enjambments, Rhyming arrangements, Terza Rima, Odes, Villanelles, Limericks, Sonnets, Haiku and so forth. Would you not be proud to identify those things, and even write them yourself. Mr Fry gives many examples from literature and gives many samples of his own poetry. He quietly but emphatically displays his huge knowledge, and does so with humour and modesty, that makes this book a pleasure to read.

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