Book Review: “Beautiful & Pointless”

In Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry David Orr presents an accessible and funny account of of the current state of modern poetry. He begins the the book with his analysis of the complex predicament that poetry seems to hold in today’s society: an increasingly academic and prestigious realm that intimidates and alienates the majority of the population. It’s an obvious and rising viewpoint, but Orr adds his own apt and unique assessment that both makes poetry approachable and exciting for all: the author compares reading poetry to visiting a foreign country. It’s a very welcome explanation highlighting the fact that poetry does have its eccentricities, difficulties, and culture, but is still quite accessible and conquerable with enough time and concentration, which can yield pleasure and experiences comparable to immersing oneself in a foreign land.

by David Orr

With this easily readable stance and approach, Orr also decides to do away with any in-depth technical analysis of the various ways in which poems can be read in order to derive text-based meanings from them. His purposeful oversight isn’t too lamentable considering the countless volumes dedicated to such a task (but with denser and scholarly tones). Instead of an academic and dry analysis, the author provides explanations of the different types and forms of poems, along with snippets from some famous poems. The examples he uses are short and further reinforce his appreciation for poetry as whole. So, those looking for insider tips on how to better craft essays analyzing poetry will be slightly disappointed.

The book also provides an insider perspective on the problems and advances of the current system that poetry has developed into: a university-dependent system for supporting the works and lives of artists. The current system that nourishes poets is problematic because of all of the inner-office politics involved in academia, which involves not just balancing teaching the art form while creating new volumes of poetry, but being a great networker, as well (requiring artists to have a certain degree of connections to know the right people and stay in their good graces). Orr points out that a lot of the poetry that makes it to publication have generally been chosen by a small number of people, which may or may not be a bad thing. But he also goes on to point out that — despite these slight negatives — it is because of the current university system, which supports so many aspiring artists and allows education to be a feasible and realistic option, that has allowed for more poetry to be produced–by an ever increasing number of people–than ever before.  The same system that is so selective, is concurrently responsible for the massive growth and innovation within today’s poetry.

Orr packs in a lot of information with an analysis on poetry’s state that is funny and readable in a fairly short book. It’s a good summer read and will be helpful to those just beginning to dabble the landscapes of poetry or curious about its university-centric patronage.

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