The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

This book is a great introduction to the art and craft of poetry. Fry mobilizes erudition, wit, and deep insight in his appraisal of poetic form and tradition.

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Posted on:Jan 4, 2024

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within aims to teach the reader how to write poetry by explaining the various elements of poetic form and technique, such as metre and rhyming schemes. The author, Stephen Fry, is a well-known comedian, actor, writer, and broadcaster who also happens to be a passionate lover of poetry.

Fry believes that poetry is a primal impulse within all of us, and that anyone can write poetry with some guidance and practice. That aspect of the book spoke directly to the educator in me. I teach a creative writing class here in Osaka, Japan, so I'm always on the lookout for new tools that help make literature more accessible. This book certainly does help. Let me explain why.

The book is divided into four sections: Metre, Rhyme, Form, and Diction and Poetics. Each section contains chapters that cover different aspects of the topic. In the opening section on Metre, for example, there is a chapter on iambic pentameter, another on end-stopping, enjambment, and caesura, and so on. The Rhyme section looks at the basic categories of rhyme, and discusses how rhyming schemes are organized, and what effects the internal sounds of a poem can have on meaning and form.

Throughout the book, Fry provides clear and concise explanations of each literary device, along with examples from various poets, both classic and contemporary. Much to my delight, he also includes exercises and assignments for the reader to try out their newly acquired skills and knowledge. I marked all the exercises with post-it notes so I can easily go back to them later on.

The book is written in a witty, humorous, and engaging style, that makes the reader feel like they are having a conversation with Fry himself. Here is an example of Fry's affable appeal from the book's introduction, where he advises the reader on the best tools for a poet:

The book has received mostly positive reviews from critics, with praise given to Fry’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and humor, as well as his ability to make poetry accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Reader reviews are full of anecdotes about how the book inspired them to write poetry for pleasure.

Personally, I was most interested in the technical and historical aspects of poetry that Fry covers. While I already had some knowledge in this area, a lot was new to me. I find that understanding the historical backdrop of poetic form, gives a deeper appreciation of poetry as practice. .

In terms of negative aspects, I think Fry's focus on the technical aspects of poetry, might be a turn-off for casual readers. That said, I do think Fry managed to keep a balance between academic subject matter, poetry appreciation, and creative writing. That's a difficult tightrope to tread.

The Ode Less Travelled is a book that offers a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to the art and craft of poetry. It is suitable for anyone who wants to learn how to write poetry, or who simply wants to appreciate poetry more. The book is not without its flaws, but it is a valuable and enjoyable resource for aspiring poets and poetry lovers alike.

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