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Poetry: A Survivor's Guide

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Playful and serious, unforgiving and compassionate, Poetry: A Survivor's Guide offers an original take on a subject both loved and feared. In a series of provocative and inspiring propositions, the act of reading a poem is made new, and the act of writing one is made over. Questions of poetry's difficulty, pretension, and relevance are explored with insight and daring. In Playful and serious, unforgiving and compassionate, Poetry: A Survivor's Guide offers an original take on a subject both loved and feared. In a series of provocative and inspiring propositions, the act of reading a poem is made new, and the act of writing one is made over. Questions of poetry's difficulty, pretension, and relevance are explored with insight and daring. In an age of new media and social networking, this handbook-cum-manifesto provides fresh reverence for one of our oldest forms of art.


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Playful and serious, unforgiving and compassionate, Poetry: A Survivor's Guide offers an original take on a subject both loved and feared. In a series of provocative and inspiring propositions, the act of reading a poem is made new, and the act of writing one is made over. Questions of poetry's difficulty, pretension, and relevance are explored with insight and daring. In Playful and serious, unforgiving and compassionate, Poetry: A Survivor's Guide offers an original take on a subject both loved and feared. In a series of provocative and inspiring propositions, the act of reading a poem is made new, and the act of writing one is made over. Questions of poetry's difficulty, pretension, and relevance are explored with insight and daring. In an age of new media and social networking, this handbook-cum-manifesto provides fresh reverence for one of our oldest forms of art.

30 review for Poetry: A Survivor's Guide

  1. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

    There’s a lot to like in this irreverent and provocative book about both reading and writing poems. For anyone shy of the art (whether reading or writing poetry), Yakich is most encouraging. He includes many tips and techniques, exercises to jog you out of the routine and ordinary ways of seeing and jumpstart your writing. And there are so many gems of good advice. Here are just a few of the bits I especially liked and copied out: “A poem cannot be paraphrased. In fact, a poem’s greatest potentia There’s a lot to like in this irreverent and provocative book about both reading and writing poems. For anyone shy of the art (whether reading or writing poetry), Yakich is most encouraging. He includes many tips and techniques, exercises to jog you out of the routine and ordinary ways of seeing and jumpstart your writing. And there are so many gems of good advice. Here are just a few of the bits I especially liked and copied out: “A poem cannot be paraphrased. In fact, a poem’s greatest potential lies in the opposite of paraphrase: ambiguity. Ambiguity is at the center of what is it to be a human being. We really have no idea what’s going to happen from moment to moment, but we have to act as if we do.” “A poem has no hidden meaning, only “meanings” you’ve not yet realized are right in front of you. Discerning subtleties takes practice. Reading poetry is a convention like anything else. And you learn the rules of it like anything else—e.g., driving a car, baking a cake, walking a tightrope.” “As hard as it sounds, separate the poet from the speaker of the poem. A poet always wears a mask (persona) even if she isn’t trying to wear a mask, and so to equate poet and speaker denies the poem any imaginative force that lies outside of her lived life.” How many times I’ve harped on this to students and fellow writers! “Poets depend on readers for confirmation of their worth. Readers depend on poets for confirmation of their doubts.” “Not all poets are visionaries but all poets can be subversives, even if they are subverting only their own visions periodically.” Readers will like some parts of the book better than others. I skimmed much of the latter half, since I was not much interested in reading about how to run a creative writing classroom/workshop, literary magazines, publication advice, putting together a manuscript, etc. And the Epilogue was far too long and terribly out of place in this context — a long-winded paean (on and on and on) to showers (the kind in which you stand in the tub or stall and wash and masturbate or whatever). Why here?? The book could have used some better proofreading. In quite a few sentences, I noticed words (articles, prepositions) left out, run-on sentences (comma splices), or other errors of punctuation. This just bugs me, perhaps a lot more than it should. One mistake that I found rather significant is in the following sentence: "Even a single word can change its emphasis: present as a noun is an iamb, present as a verb is trochee.” In fact, the author has it backwards: the verb is the iamb. Pre-SENT. This seems pretty bad, considering that he’s using this example to illustrate.  And I take issue with a couple of other things. One is the famous (“under understood” says Yakich) quote of Gertrude Stein, which Yakich quotes as "A rose is a rose is a rose.” Unfortunately, he then proceeds to explain this statement for us. I don’t think Yakich has any inside knowledge here and wouldn’t give him the final word. Stein’s original version was “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” in which the first Rose is widely understood to be a surname. Stein is known to have had a painting by Sir Francis Rose hanging in her living room. So, really, who knows? It’s true that Stein later used variations on that sentence, including “A rose is a rose is a rose.” It may just mean that things are what they are. Yakich says: “A rose is clearly not a rose. “Rose” is a word standing in for that flowery thing that is out there in the garden. To say “a rose is a rose” is already once removed from what a rose really is. A rose is a rose is a rose. Does the rose turn a deeper red when it’s repeated three times? Perhaps. But couldn’t the rose also fade with such wear? The repetition of rose makes the rose less of a rose and more of a piece of language. Say it again aloud: a rose is a rose is a rose. Did you detect it? Arose: to ascend. Stein’s phrase isn’t about making the rose more rosy, but how language takes on a life of its own.” Well, maybe it’s that, too. He follows this up with a completely tangential and unnecessary paragraph about how many roses to send for various purposes, according to “the folks at Teleflora.”  I would also have to take issue with Yakich’s pronouncements (as if from on high) about prose poetry. For instance, “Prose poems are, for the most part, more prose than poetry—that is, they are structured more along the lines of story and scene than song.” It sounds like he hasn’t read many. Prose poems are not all structured along the lines of story. There’s a difference — actually an overlap — between prose poetry and flash fiction. Some prose poems read like fictions, but not all of them do. Some short pieces are thoroughly in one camp or the other. Yakich further maintains that “A prose poem is really a failed attempt at lineating a poem, or is a piece of prose that has failed to turn into a longer work. [I can't believe anyone would put such goofy thoughts in writing!] Like Montaigne’s Essays, which are literally “attempts” or “trials,” prose poems illustrate that there is nothing wrong with a failure of form. If the prose poem does nothing else, it illustrates that even straightforward prose is affected prose.” Huh? To each his own. He can have an opinion, but this is both ignorant and arrogant. Here’s something to rankle those of us who happen to enjoy reading, and even writing (oh horrors!), short stories:: "Studying the short story mostly gets you sucked into writing a short story, and writing a short story takes too much time for what it’s worth, perhaps a publication in a journal which few will bother to read." And poetry journals are so widely read, right?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Therese Broderick

    The ''survivor'' in this title primarily refers, as far as I can deduce, to any English teacher or poet-teacher who has managed to survive the inanities of classrooms and curriculums (page 162). The author Mark Yakich reveals that his own career survival has depended, in part, upon the various ''antics'' (page 6) he has concocted over the years in order to keep his students irritated just enough to learn something--anything--about poetry. Indeed, in several places throughout his text, the author The ''survivor'' in this title primarily refers, as far as I can deduce, to any English teacher or poet-teacher who has managed to survive the inanities of classrooms and curriculums (page 162). The author Mark Yakich reveals that his own career survival has depended, in part, upon the various ''antics'' (page 6) he has concocted over the years in order to keep his students irritated just enough to learn something--anything--about poetry. Indeed, in several places throughout his text, the author irritates me (instructs me?) with clownish notions and goofball pronouncements. In pointing out that "flow" spelled backwards is "wolf" (page 149), the author goads me into noticing that his name "Mark" spelled backwards is "kram." This book is crammed full with both sober and outlandish assertions. Almost anything goes. Perhaps a survivor's guide does need, after all, to be overstuffed with surplus provisions. Who knows which single item might someday make the difference between life and death?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Krista Dolan

    I won this as part of a goodreads giveaway awhile back, and unfortunately it sat on my to-read pile as the school year began! (::sorry goodreadsgods) The voice in this text is ridiculously inviting! That in itself I found to be useful to use in my Writing course regardless of the poetry content itself. Yakich's insights and appreciations of poetry a heartfelt and relatable. I think we could all use a little more poetry in our lives :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amy Alice

    Non-fiction. Excellent insight to poetry, in a very poetic style. It consists of small vignettes on different aspects of reading and writing poetry, and as the author states, it is just ONE survival guide. It is not snobby or prescriptive and I left with a conviction about how to enjoy poetry in my own way, as well as an appreciation of the structures and an introduction to the 'greats'.

  5. 4 out of 5

    MV

    "The very best way to read a poem is perhaps to be young, intelligent, and slightly drunk." A fun book. I think I would've gotten way more out of this during my college years. It would've been a great companion to my Intro to Poetry class!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tara Meissner

    It is great to find contemporary books in defensive of poetry and championing verse. This book has a spot on my bookshelf in reverence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neal

    Fun and engaging book on how to read poetry, dig deeper and dapple in writing poetry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Schwarz

    Enjoyable and easy read, playful and full of aphorisms. It's more of a devotional than a how to. I borrowed this one from the library, but I could see this as an easy book to keep on the shelf to dip into from time to time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

    An irreverent guide to the world of poetry from an irreverent poet. Mark Yakich didn't have much use for poetry until he stumbled into it by accident and decided to stick around a while. His guide is a sneaky introduction to what reading and writing poetry is actually all about, without all the academic gloss or pedantic delivery. In frank, down-to-earth language Yakich explains how to read, write, and teach poetry, admitting all the while that a) he could be wrong, and b) there are other ways to An irreverent guide to the world of poetry from an irreverent poet. Mark Yakich didn't have much use for poetry until he stumbled into it by accident and decided to stick around a while. His guide is a sneaky introduction to what reading and writing poetry is actually all about, without all the academic gloss or pedantic delivery. In frank, down-to-earth language Yakich explains how to read, write, and teach poetry, admitting all the while that a) he could be wrong, and b) there are other ways to do it. The first half of the book, which tackles reading, could double as a great text for a high school English class (or as part of a savvy homeschooler's arsenal). The second half, on writing, will be more useful to anyone actually thinking about writing poems, but is still a fun peek into the writing world even if you decide you must never go there. Most useful to aspiring poets is the section on MFA and PhD programs, which is the most clear, level-headed explanation of grad school I've ever read. What really sells this book, though, is the tone. I'd love to hear an audio version, actually, because it reads like you're sitting across a table from Yakich, drinking coffee together while he smokes cigarettes and rambles on about the poetry life. I can see him waving his cigarette around in the air while circling a point, or pointing at me for emphasis when he wants to stress something. I have no idea if Yakich actually smokes, but the no-nonsense tone, laced with heaping helpings of snark, certainly implies that he does. Or maybe it's just that, in my own imagination, poets always smoke. Who can say? This book would be a great read for anybody who just doesn't understand poetry, and wants to, or for poets to give friends who don't get it, in hopes that they will. I'd also recommend it as a text for high school AP English, or first-year college writing electives. And, of course, it will prove invaluable to the practicing poet who fully, despite the frustrations and the challenges of the work, intends to survive.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eli Tubbs

    This is real. It is genuine. I am a student, this was written for students. No book on writing has had an impact like this, except maybe Hugo's The Triggering town (but how old is that thing?). Regardless, this is a must read for people new or experienced in the art of poetry.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erica Wright

    Wry, pithy, and smart—a wonderful resource for readers who want more poetry in their lives but are intimidated by the form. My copy has plenty of dog ears. Postcard review: http://ow.ly/K94R303OH8e Wry, pithy, and smart—a wonderful resource for readers who want more poetry in their lives but are intimidated by the form. My copy has plenty of dog ears. Postcard review: http://ow.ly/K94R303OH8e

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    808.1 Y15p 2016

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Pierre

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chey

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Williams

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Jane

  17. 5 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heather Nilson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Maring

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alina Stefanescu

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Noto

  22. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chau

  24. 4 out of 5

    KURGAN FREEDLE

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bill Abbott

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary Blendermann

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  28. 4 out of 5

    Justin Morrisroe

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cathryn Shea

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

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