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Imprints Literary Supplement

The Best Books You've Never Read

Forms of Verse: British and American

By Jenny Keith | Posted 10/13/1999

Forms of Verse: British and American

Sara deFord and Clarinda Harriss Lott

Reprinted by Irvington in 1972

If poetry is cuisine, then those of us who dare to call ourselves poets are usually limited in our knowledge of ingredients or preparation. We gather a few favorites, such as rice, broccoli, and garlic, and declare ourselves competent chefs when we have arranged these foods in a few different, tasty ways.

Opening Forms of Verse is like being dropped into the middle of Lexington Market. The mind's palate is dazzled by the beauty of all that is available, from heavy, fragrant oranges to rich chocolates to plump chickens and the profound joy of good bread. After this elation comes the crash: How on earth do you prepare it all? Herein are the best ingredients and the kind of good, basic recipes that have yielded the finest poems in the English language for hundreds of years. At the start, the reader learns scansion, or how to analyze meter in poetry. Formal verse demands counting. The book includes directions for odes, sonnets, blank verse, and French forms.

Rules in any kind of art are now unstylish. Many people think the best poetry is sheer, unfettered expression. Many think art is magic. There is indeed a magical component, but there is also an underpinning of hard work, of practice, of study. Forms of Verse makes this accessible to the beginning or aspiring poet. There are plenty of newer books for prospective creators of verse, but none are so clearly focused on the nuts and bolts of exactly how to write poetry.

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