144. Do women like poetry? Also, what is poetry?

New Warhorn Media post by Nathan Alberson:

Thanks to @bschasteen for the teaching on poetry. I’ve generally been able to appreciate poetry inasmuch as I can understand and ponder the “central conceit” (if that’s what it’s called). I’ve never really considered it a craft with rules. Its always seemed like you start with this magical wizard type person - lets call him a ‘mystic.’ He gets an idea and starts writing and, presto! A poem appears.

I do a little wood-working - none of it very good - and I recognize it as a craft. I read O’Connor’s letters and recognize her short-story work as a craft. It is helpful to see poetry in the same light.

This may be a bad question, but what book would be good for understanding poetry better? Would it be Warren’s book (Understanding Poetry)? Maybe there’s no good answer and its more just about reading more poetry.

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help us @bschasteen … you’re our only hope


Not a bad question at all. And, yes, Warren’s book is a great place to start. Yale used it as their freshman textbook (or so I’ve heard). It has chapters on general categories (metaphor, image, etc.) and then gives examples, with annotations. So, in many ways, it is like having Warren teach you. There is also an Appendix on metrics that has been very helpful.

I also recommend the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry/Poetics. When I teach poetry basics, this, plus Understanding Poetry, are my main texts.

Beyond these, you have to get into good poetry, and slowly try to parse out what is going on. As you do this more, you’ll get better at it. Start with poets who have “good bones” – Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, Yeats, Wilbur, some Elizabeth Bishop and Frost, are a good place to start – and examine what they are doing. How do they use rhyme/rhythm to add structure and emphasis to their poems? How do they use central themes and sound repetitions? One useful tactic is to pick any grouping of words and ask: why these words? Why not others? This really helps stress how poetry is just as much about sound as it is about sense, and that good poets do what they can to strike a balance between these two aspects in their poems.

Good poetry has an internal music stemming from this careful balance you lose (in my opinion) in sing-songy poets like Tennyson, Kipling, many of the Romantics, etc. These guys are good entry point poets to see how meter works, but they aren’t mature in their craft. I know these may be fighting words, but I’ll stand by them. There is a lot to unpack here, but, essentially, they sacrifice the difficulty (and beauty) of their poetry for easy sounds and platitudes. Which, incidentally, makes them fantastic poets to teach to children, because the basics are so blatantly on display, though honestly, I’d still go with Milne’s poems, or other poems by good children’s poets, over their “grown-up” poems. The main reason is good children’s poets are good because they do what every good poet does: write good poetry.


And before someone replies “I’d take simplicity over difficulty any day” I’d add: sometimes deceptive simplicity is the beauty of a difficult (in the craft-sense) poem.


… Nathan’s never met a woman who likes Shakespeare’s sonnets…

Hi, Nathan, I’m Kelly, nice to meet you. :joy:

Thanks for the mention, guys. It’s always fun to feel like I’m contributing to the conversation. :slight_smile:

Your bit about those Tolstoy scenes is thought-provoking. There are many times that we have to buckle down and do the practical thing; set the deeper thoughts and emotions aside for a time. But we have to come back to them, otherwise we’re… well, unhealthy, I suppose. Or foolish to refuse to contemplate what is happening and what God says about it and what we feel about it – and then what we ought to feel and do. This applies equally to men and women, as far as I can see. In other words, again (haha!) we come back to me thinking that the divide isn’t between the sexes, but between kinds of people (if we’re being charitable) or between fools and the wise (if we’re being uncharitable). I tend to think it’s about kinds of people- some are much more contemplative than others, obviously. But everyone is capable of wisdom in this, according to God’s gifting. I’m not saying that everyone who is extremely practical and not at all poetically-inclined is a fool :slight_smile:

Might come back later; I’m only halfway through the episode- Good discussion so far.

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Wow, stellar episode. I’ve been wishing for a nuts-and-bolts poetry lesson and wondering what book to read to get it, but here it is! Very helpful.

Loved the baseball analogies, guys; that fit well and was easy to grasp.

Kudos (especially to Brandon) and many thanks!