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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

by Stephen Fry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,824247,092 (4.07)56
"Stephen Fry believes that if you can speak and read English you can write poetry. But it is no fun if you don't know where to start or have been led to believe that Anything Goes. Whether you want to write a Petrarchan sonnet for your lover's birthday, an epithalamium for your sister's wedding or a villanelle excoriating the government's housing policy, The Ode Less Travelled will give you the tools and the confidence to do so. Brimful of enjoyable exercises, witty insights and simple step-by-step advice, The Ode Less Travelled guides the reader towards mastery and confidence in the Mother of the Arts."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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» See also 56 mentions

English (23)  Italian (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
On rereading this book, I'm upgrading it to 5 stars. (Although I should note I'm a pathetic Stephen Fry acolyte, so you should hold my judgment to be as something written on water.)

Fry carefully takes the reader through essentially all the key concepts to understand poetry. Metre, looking at poetic feet, enjambment, caesura, sprung rhythm and syllabic poetry among others; Rhyme, exploring types of rhyme including feminine, triple, and rich; Form, in which he interrogates everything from the Pindaric ode to the Villanelle, from the Limerick to the Tanka; and Diction, a brief epilogue on the art of poetry in the 21st century. It is all written in his distinctive style, passionately erudite one second, cheeky the next.

Along the way, Fry includes 20 exercises designed to help the novice poet experiment with forms and styles, while also including plenty of excerpts from poetry dating back to the ancients and forward to the present - as well as his own (deliberately low-key) efforts. For the most part, Fry avoids breathtakingly contemporary styles and blank verse. He notes that these styles are just as important and powerful, but that any artist must begin with an understanding of the basics and the existing work that has been built up over millennia before "breaking free of the pan and doing their own thing", as Elaine Benes would put it.

For some budding poets, this will be rich material. For others, you may not connect with Fry's tone or his focus on the "nuts and bolts" of writing. (I, like Fry, would caution you to reconsider your beliefs!)

Speaking for myself, I don't have any intention of writing poetry, and so I did not do the exercises. For me, the joy of this book was simply in revisiting the breadth of poetic styles in the hands of a master storyteller and armchair academic. With helpful charts, tables, and practical examples along the way, The Ode Less Travelled shines for those of us who still keep bookshelves of reference books. The final 22 pages are a glossary of poetic terms from abecedarian to zeugma (well, there's a couple of joke entries after the latter, but that's for you to enjoy), which will prove equally useful. ( )
  therebelprince | Jun 24, 2021 |

An enjoyable book by Stephen Fry about how poetry works and how to write it. There are a lot of exercises inviting the reader to try their own; I did about half of them and then ran out of energy. I'm not as much into poetry as some people, but this was a nice re-introduction to enjoying it. ( )
  nwhyte | Jun 29, 2020 |
An exhortation to everyone that anyone could - and everyone should - write poetry. Fry sets out a course on the various meters, styles, and techniques, including brief histories, a scattering of close readings for snippets of poems, and exercises for the reader to try. He does it all with his usual wit and charm and gleeful cleverness.
I admit that Fry would likely be annoyed with me, because I didn't follow along as I was meant to do: I didn't do any of the poetry-writing exercises, because 1) despite the title, I wasn't expecting a crash course on actually creating poems, and 2) I completely enjoyed thinking about poetry from a different approach. I love reading what people have to say *about* poetry (close readings and such, discussions of how the conjunction of meter and word choice flavor meaning,...), and I was absolutely giddy at the prospect of reading what Fry has to say about those things. Reading his approach to how to *write* the stuff (which includes significant bits of those things I love mentioned above) was absolutely enjoyable without me even touching a pencil. As someone with a degree in English and also a more-than-average knowledge of how to write poetry in Latin (no, really, I have the grad school course work to prove it), most of the technical bits on the various meters and how they work wasn't news, but he does such a lovely job of it that I enjoyed the review. So, maybe I didn't do the book properly, but I still loved it and I definitely recommend it, either for folks like me, who just like reading about poetry and what others think about it, or for those wanting to learn how the innards of poetry work, or for those who want to try their hand at creating the stuff. ( )
4 vote scaifea | Oct 9, 2019 |
An approachable and amiable lesson in the principles of English-language poetry. The inimitable Stephen Fry goes through all the different features of poetry – from the overarching principles of metre, rhyme and form to the smaller techniques like caesura and enjambment, and through different poetic styles like the sonnet and the villanelle – with all the ease of a good English teacher, but with none of the sternness of a high-school lesson, nor the sense of fear that Teacher will single you out in a class of thirty and ask you to point out the uses of assonance in today's poem on the board.

In this book, Fry is concerned with the linguistic structure of poetry rather than any sense of artistic inspiration (read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet if you want that), but he never devolves into anorakish condescension. He does criticize the 'arse-dribble' poems that seem to pass for poetry nowadays (pg. 177), but this only serves to enliven his lesson, for his love of the art form is evident. Furthermore, he believes it is relatively simple to start writing half-decent poetry if you only show some commitment; "taste and concentration" is what he boils it down to (pg. 316), and he wrote the book with precisely this humble aim in mind.

He is not looking to 'make learning fun', as a more misguided English teacher might; rather, he says poetry does not have to be 'cool' or 'relevant', "it is quite enough for me that it astonishes with its beauty" (pg. 313). This honest and unapologetic earnestness is what makes Fry so likeable, and he is on characteristically great form here. The call to write poetry is an embarrassingly common one, but Fry goes further than our half-baked doggerel dreams. He actually makes you want to do it right. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Aug 25, 2018 |
I try to get outside my comfort zone sometimes and I got this a couple of years ago to do just that but didn't get too far. I was told ...by several people...that I had to read it out loud. So...it languished for a while. Then I found out that Stephen Fry read it himself for an audiobook. I'll listen to lecture series, but audiobooks are not my thing.

Until this one. I read along with Mr. Fry. I loved his voice and he really made his words come alive. For a book on poetry, his prose was better than any poem I have ever read. And he gets into such technicalities! "iamb, the trochee, the pyrrhic, and the spondee [...] anapest and the dactyl, the molossus, the tribach, the amphibrach and the amphimacer"...sounds like a biology lesson.

He doesn't spend much time on "free verse", which is what I really need explained to me - rhymeless, meterless words are...well...not poems. But that's my failing.

I learned a lot (apart from the entire subject, "ullage" is not a word I encounter in casual reading!) Hearing him read while I read along was eminently helpful. I don't intend to write anything as he suggests, beyond my sometimes witty and sometimes just groaning limericks, and I don't know how much I'll read, but I do think I'll return to this again. ( )
  Razinha | May 14, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
“The Ode Less Travelled” is at once idiosyncratic and thoroughly traditional — it’s filled with quips, quirks and various Fry-isms (sestinas are “a bitch to explain but a joy to make”), yet still manages to be a smart, comprehensive guide to prosody. It’s organized in three main sections — meter, rhyme and form, with exercises suggested for each — and a smaller concluding section in which Fry gives some general thoughts about contemporary British poetry. It also has a practical, good-natured glossary ... the book is ideal for anyone who’s interested in learning more about poetic forms ... Fry’s goal is to demystify the art without deadening it.
added by KayCliff | editNew York Times, David Orr (Oct 1, 2006)
Mr. Fry sticks to structure, beginning with metrical feet like iambs and dactyls, then progressing through rhyme schemes and various poetical forms, from haiku to ballads to villanelles.... Writing exercises, 20 in all, are sprinkled throughout, as are commands to keep reading aloud.... Mr. Fry truly shines when ardently defending and explicating the virtues of form.
He's come to read the metre ... It is, mostly, intelligent and informative, a worthy enterprise well executed.
added by KayCliff | editObserver, Ranjit Bolt (Nov 27, 2005)
In this delightfully erudite, charming and soundly pedagogical guide to poetic form ... Fry leads the reader through a series of lessons on meter, rhythm, rhyme and stanza length and reveals the structural logic of every imaginable poetic form ... Fry has created an invaluable and highly enjoyable reference book on poetic form, which deserves to achieve widespread academic adoption.

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Fryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sanderson, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, PeterDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." -- William Arthur Ward
For Rory Stuart, a good, superior and great teacher.
First words
I have a dark and dreadful secret.
You can never read a poem too slowly, but you can certainly read one too fast.
The life of a poem is measured in regular heartbeats. The name for those heartbeats is metre.
Poets are people and they have taken the courageous step of sharing their fears, loves, hopes and narratives with us in a rare and crafted form.
Always try to read verse out loud ... Among the pleasures of poetry is the sheer physical, sensual, tactile pleasure of feeling the words on your lips, tongue, teeth and vocal cords.... Poetry is an entirely different way of using words ... how much more pleasure is to be derived from a slow, luxurious engagement with the language and rhythms.
Metre is the primary rhythm, the organised background against which the secondary rhythms of sense and feeling are played out.
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"Stephen Fry believes that if you can speak and read English you can write poetry. But it is no fun if you don't know where to start or have been led to believe that Anything Goes. Whether you want to write a Petrarchan sonnet for your lover's birthday, an epithalamium for your sister's wedding or a villanelle excoriating the government's housing policy, The Ode Less Travelled will give you the tools and the confidence to do so. Brimful of enjoyable exercises, witty insights and simple step-by-step advice, The Ode Less Travelled guides the reader towards mastery and confidence in the Mother of the Arts."--BOOK JACKET.

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