As the prize-winning author of four collections, Zapruder has an impressive pedigree, but he’s refreshingly humble and direct here ... Believing all a poem requires is our full attention, Zapruder does skillful close readings of 'The Waste Land,' as well as work by Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and other masters. He breaks down poems 'literally,' in accessible prose that clarifies their meanings ... Why Poetry casts its net wide and hauls in a splendid bounty. Zapruder quotes sources as diverse as Pope Francis, Pema Chödrön, Keats and Roxane Gay, and moves nimbly from French surrealism to Japanese haiku. He engages deeply with language and meaning and doesn’t shy away from crucial questions of ethics or politics, examining Audre Lorde on racial violence, Amiri Baraka on 9/11, Adrienne Rich on rape ... While intellectually rigorous, his chapters resonate because of currents of personal revelation running alongside the argument.
Is it necessary? Is it designed primarily to be purchased and read by students being introduced to the reasons for and methods of reading poetry? I don’t know ... I understand Zapruder’s interest in preaching to the unconverted. I suspect he is a terrific teacher. His readings of poems are subtle and convincing. I found myself thinking, 'Gosh, I never saw that obvious thing in quite that way before,' many times during my reading, which is precisely what should happen when reading about literature: We are humbled by its operations on our own minds and the need for others to read with us.
The pleasure in Zapruder's book is in going beyond those feelings into an exploration into the hows and whys of poetry. Zapruder acts as a guide showing us some of the epiphanies he experienced as he developed his own craft. It is not a 'how-to' book, so do not be put off if you feel no desire to write poetry. At its core, the book isn't even necessarily about poetry, but is instead a testament to a way of seeing and moving through the world that puts experience and wonder first. It recaptures that which draws us to poetry as children, while showing us the even deeper pleasures we are capable of as adults.
Zapruder has written a book intended to help mend the rift between poems and readers. He wants to restore our access to poetry’s considerable gifts, to aid us in reclaiming that birthright. By my lights, this is a noble and ambitious agenda … Why Poetry is intelligent, straightforward, lucid, and cleanly reasoned. The book reads like a single essay in some respects, because Zapruder’s central points about poetry not being a code, about its literary uniqueness and resultant usefulness, are patiently reiterated across his essays … The pieces included here are teacherly in the best sense. Why Poetry’s tone blends enthusiasm and erudition. Flashes of autobiography are integrated into the text, making the essays warmer and less lecture-y. In his prose Zapruder abides by his own maxim about poetry, that ‘clarity’ can be ‘a kind of generosity.’
Zapruder’s writing is accessible, easygoing, and welcoming, as if he’s sitting right there talking us through the poems. Throughout, he uses numerous poems to clearly explain how each achieves something unique. His discussion of the enigma of line breaks is first-rate.
In his new book, Why Poetry, Matthew Zapruder makes the bold assertion that understanding poetry requires 'forgetting many incorrect things we have learned in school' and accepting 'what is right before us on the page' ...tackles another question people frequently ask: 'What is the purpose of poetry, and what should we be looking for?' ... He also leads readers through many famous and challenging poems... And he provides a wealth of revelatory yet practical statements on subjects as diverse as metaphor and symbolism, negative capability, and associative movement ...a consistently surprising work that shows novices how they can navigate poetry while providing a wonderful re-education for anyone who was taught to dissect a poem as if it were a dead frog.
Zapruder is nothing if not sincere?—?he seems to truly believe in the potential of poetry to improve people’s lives, and, over the course of more than two hundred pages, he lays out his case … The answer, for Zapruder, is nuanced—and it is this quality, nuance, to which Zapruder seems most attracted, even if his intention is to argue in a way that is both direct and clear. In this aim, he mostly succeeds. He is excellent at describing, in plain language, why poetry is different from other forms of writing, and how it can help people to lead deeper, more emotionally textured lives. He is less convincing on the subjects of political speech and poetry, and it is these stumbles that cast doubt on his poetic project as a whole … Zapruder wants to have it both ways?—?to preserve poetry as a place for intellectual and creative freedom and also for the outcome of this unlimited freedom to be automatically ethical.
[A] diligently executed investigation ... Conversational yet eloquent, accessible and intelligent, Zapruder considers a range of writing on poetics and the craft of composition and includes close reads and smart explication.
This is in many ways a marvelous book ... If Zapruder does not quite succeed in convincing readers that poetry differs entirely from other writing genres, his analyses of a wide range of individual poets, including Robert Hass, John Keats, Audre Lorde, W.S. Merwin, and Walt Whitman, offer insight about the use of metaphor, symbol, absence, and negative capability, and prompt conversation about his conclusions. Ending with a politically charged afterword, 'Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis,' this passionate book, aimed at would-be poets, would work well both in a college classroom and in the hands of ordinary readers.