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'One of the many joys of being Stephen Fry's editor is his ability to surprise me,' says Sue Freestone. She knew he'd really done it this time when he revealed to her that he'd always had a secret passion for poetry and that his next project was a book about how to write poetry. His book will give everybody the tools to write poetry; covering the full spectrum of the different poetic forms, structures and techniques. According to Stephen it will make writing poetry fun, easy, satisfying, fulfilling and delightful. Here is a taste of Stephen's own efforts:
Lesbian Sappho made this form
With two beats to the final line
Her sex life wasn't quite the norm
And nor is mine
A gift format perfectly formed hardback for closet poetry writers everywhere.
I suspect Stephen Fry's book will be an unexpected hit this Christmas and in the following year.
When I first picked up the book, my initial thought was that this is a brave subject for Fry to tackle, let alone admit to writing poetry. However, when thinking back over his career, it doesn't seem that surprising for him to want to write a book on this subject, and be able to write it well. Fry is the ultimate logophile and his passion for the English language shines through everything Fry tackles and is certainly very evident in The Ode Less Travelled.
The book is superbly illustrated with numerous pristine examples of poetry from the greats. Each example is carefully chosen and illuminates each section of the book very well, and these excerpts are included in some of the exercises. Yes, exercises - Fry really does want each reader to practice what he teaches. I am finding myself muttering ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum as I am reading each example and when I am reading other poetry, and I guess in time, when I feel fit to tackle the subject, muttering the iambs when attempting my own work.
Whilst Fry's goal is to encourage people to write poetry and find their own voice in verse, The Ode Less Travelled will also serve to help the reader to get more from existing poetry, by reading it aloud, looking for the iambs, meter, caesurae and enjambments (and quickly become familiar with the terms). I can honestly say that I have learnt far more in just the first few pages than any English teacher was able to teach me at school.
Fry does deserve the ultimate accolades possible for writing this book in an non-academic way; keeping it simple and informative (without being condescending), making it fun, keeping it alive with exquisite examples and humour - it is indeed a rare skill. If Lynne Truss got the world more interested in grammar being 'cool', then maybe Fry can do the same with poetry.
Whether the reader becomes a proficient poetry writer, a more informed reader or just increases the passion for poetry, will be a testament to Fry's work. Great book and well worth a place on your own book shelf, or to buy for any budding poet - The world of poetry will thank you for it.
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"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs."
Joan Didion (1934 - ), 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem'