Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following book review of POETRY FOR DUMMIES
POETRY FOR DUMMIES by The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University, John Timpane, Ph.D. with Maureen Watts
Review by Wayne J. Keeley
For the first time I’ve chosen to review a ______ for Dummies (fill in the blank) book; in this case, Poetry for Dummies. I must confess that this is not my first Dummies book. Some time ago I bought HTML for Dummies, but admittedly I never opened it. This time, I not only bought Poetry for Dummies, but I read it from cover to cover, despite the fact that some of it read like Deuteronomy.
You may ask yourself why an English major with a 4.0 and a published author would read and review a work like this? To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for such things as Cliffs Notes and Monarch Notes (today, SparkNotes are more popular) I never would have made it through college. Let’s be real, getting through Beowulf was like reading a work in an unknown foreign language. And it was only after taking courses in Milton and Shakespeare with the help of the aforementioned study guides, that I grew to love the classics.
Now I dabbled in writing poetry in college and although I wrote a love poem or two while I was courting my wife and soulmate (which I currently cannot find, many computer hard drives later), I left poetry as my one untouched medium. Short stories, novels, plays, and screenplays have instead been my “things.” I was happy enough to quote Shakespeare, Milton, Frost, Dickinson, and others. It’s always made for good cocktail chit-chat.
And then one day my son was writing some song lyrics. I went on to write a poem; it even contained rhyming couplets. Like a flash, things came back to me in bits and pieces: iambic pentameter, sonnets, haikus. If only I could remember it all! I wanted a primer to help refresh my recollection and thought Poetry for Dummies was just the panacea I might require.
I could never forget how an iambic pentameter line is structured. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s first line of his long poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was emblazoned like a frozen tableau in my mind: “It is an ancient Mariner.”
I remembered the accented and unaccented syllables – Duh Dee, Duh Dee, Duh Dee, Duh Dee, Duh Dee (or some variation). But I did not remember the rhyming scheme of a sonnet or the line count or the syllables in the lines of a haiku. Fortunately, Poetry for Dummies brought these things back to me: a sonnet has 14 lines with rhyming couplets; a haiku is composed of three lines of five syllables, seven, then back to five. Unfortunately, our six-month-old Yorki-Poo puppy, Eleven (who is named for one of the main characters on Stranger Things), must not be a Shakespeare fan because she ate most of that chapter. Yes, dogs do eat homework! It’s a good thing I had a year of Shakespeare in college.
If you want to know the origins of poetry around the globe from the beginning of time to the present, then this is the reference material for you. Poetry for Dummies goes into excruciating detail about how poetry evolved in every corner of the Earth. However, I found the book woefully inadequate when it came to modern poetry. Other than Dickinson and Ginsberg, it made very few references to contemporary much less modern-day poets – as in poets of TODAY. Additionally, it has about one page devoted to poetry on the Internet. But it does go on for pages about how to submit poetry to publishers by snail mail and how not to forget to it put in a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Hello?! We are living in the digital age where just about everything is submitted online! Today films are submitted almost exclusively via platforms such as FilmFreeway and poetry is submitted via Submittable. It’s also a rare thing to find an agent or publisher who accepts hard copy manuscripts. Even a dinosaur like me knows that!
In my final analysis, I must say I gleaned very little from Poetry for Dummies which can either mean I am dumber than I think I am or perhaps, smarter than I realized. Either way, my quest for creating great poetry continues – as it should with any art or skill.