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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet…

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within (edition 2006)

by Stephen Fry

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,921237,295 (4.06)62
"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)
Title:The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within
Authors:Stephen Fry
Info:Gotham (2006), Hardcover, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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


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English (22)  Italian (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)

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 |
This was a pleasurable listen, and might be a pleasurable read. I wish I had Fry for an English teacher. But then, my teachers weren't that bad. Well, I am not sure about the didactic value or presentational consistence or something of that kind concerning the book in question, but I did immensely enjoy the way Fry told me about all the things I had actually already known. And this is akin to the point he explicitly makes regarding his own poetry, his is too well-known, too "noisy" to be judged objectively as a poet. It is a very enjoyable listen, and might be an enjoyable read. What with all the exercises and all. ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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Book description

pt. 1. Metre.
How we speak ; Meet metre ; The great iamb ; The iambic pentameter -- End-stopping, enjambment and caesura ; Weak endings, trochaic and pyrhhic substitutions ; Substitutions -- More metres : four beats to the line ; Mixed feet -- Ternary feet : the dactyl, the molossus and tribrach, the amphibrach, the amphimacer, quaternary feet -- Anglo-Saxon attitudes ; Sprung rhythm -- Syllabic verse ; Coleridge's 'Lesson for a boy' -- Table of metric feet

pt. 2. Rhyme.
The basic categories of rhyme ; Partial rhymes ; Feminine and triple rhymes ; Rich rhyme -- Rhyming arrangements -- Good and bad rhyme? ; A thought experiment ; Rhyming practice and rhyming dictionaries -- Rhyme categories

pt. 3. Form.
The stanza ; What is form and why bother with it? -- Stanzaic variations ; Open forms : terza rima, the quartrain, the rubai, rhyme royal, ottava rima, Spenserian stanza ; Adopting and adapting -- The ballad -- Heroic verse -- The ode : Sapphic, Pindaric, Horatian, the lyric ode, anacreontics -- Closed forms : the villanelle ; The sestina ; The pantoum, the ballade -- More closed forms: rondeau ; rondeau redoublé, rondel, roundel, rondelet, roundelelay, triolet, kyrielle -- Comic verse : cento, the clerihew ; The limerick ; Reflections on comic and impolite verse ; Light verse ; Parody -- Exotic forms : haiku, senryu, tanka ; Ghazal ; Luc bat ; Tanaga -- The sonnet : Petrarchan and Shakespearean ; Curtal and caudate sonnets ; Sonnet variations and romantic duels -- Shaped verse ; Pattern poems ; Silly, silly forms ; Acrostics

pt. 4. Diction and poetics today.
The whale ; The cat and the act ; Madeline ; Diction ; Being alert to language -- Poetic vices ; Ten habits of successful poets that they don't teach you at Harvard Poetry School, or chicken verse for the soul is from Mars but you are what you read in just seven days or your money back ; Getting noticed ; Poetry today ; Goodbye -- Incomplete glossary of poetic terms -- Appendix : Arnaud's algorithm.
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