Book Review

book review – how to read a poem


Edward Hirsch (2000), How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry, Harvest Book.

“There are people who defend themselves against being “carried away” by poetry, thus depriving themselves of an essential aspect of the experience. But there are others who welcome the transport poetry provides. They welcome it repeatedly. They desire it so much they start to crave it daily, nightly, nearly abject in their desire, seeking it out the way hungry people seek food. It is spiritual sustenance to them. Bread and wine. A way of transformative thinking. A method of transfiguration. There are those who honor the reality of roots and wings in words, but also want the wings to take root, to grow into the earth, and the roots to take flight, to ascend. They need such falling and rising, such metaphoric thinking. They are so taken by the ecstatic experience – the overwhelming intensity – of reading poems they have to respond in kind. And these people become poets.” (p. 7)

So, this is my first book review. I decided to write book reviews taking a completely subjective perspective, following a certain pattern by answering these questions:

  1. At what point of my life have the book (as I consider books entities) and I met?
  2. What was my experience when reading the book?
  3. What will the book leave me with?

In this case it is a bit harder to follow that pattern as I haven’t finished reading the book yet.

The cited paragraph has expressed my personal reasons for reading and writing poetry so accurately that I had to share it.

Me and this book have actually met in ‘City Lights Bookstore’ on Sept 9th in San Francisco. I stumbled across its title going through their amazing poetry section. At the time I was looking for poetry books and not books about poetry. So I put it away again. The second time I made it to that bookstore a couple of days later, the book attracted my attention again – being ruthlessly ignored yet another time. When it crossed my path for the third time today in a bookstore in Santa Cruz, I decided to attribute its constant appearance in my life to fate and bought it.

In the preface, it begins informing the reader that this is a book about reading poetry – redundantly enough as it states so in the title. In the third sentence Hirsch writes: “I have gathered together many poems I have loved over the years, and I have tried to let them show me how they should be read.” This really caught my attention, leaving me curious for more. During the next couple of pages not only does the author express his own love for poetry, but lets the poets themselves express theirs, inducing it in the reader. It feels as if the author took the reader by the hand, saying: ‘Let me introduce you to my friends’, thus making it a completely subjective experience. Poetry is subjective. Not only does is reveal the core of the poet’s experience and inner world but also that of the reader. Hirsch makes that clear when he writes: “You are reading poetry – I mean really reading it – when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel its seismic vibrations, the sounding of your depth.”

I already fell for the book. It captured me as poetry has captured me. It transports its author’s love for the “roots and wings” of the “message in a bottle” poetry holds. It hasn’t left me yet, and already I anticipate the sadness after reading its last page – as if I had found a dear friend of whom I will have to part when putting the book aside.


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