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What’s the point of poetry? is a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but which rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many perfectly literate, successful adults who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school.
A metrophobe isn’t someone who’s terrified of underground railways, it’s someone who’s afraid of poetry. But The Point of Poetry isn’t just for metrophobes, it’s a much more important book because it argues that you will learn far more from poets than from most other people claiming to help you understand the world you live in.
In it you will find more than twenty famous and not so famous poems by poets as varied as William Blake, John Milton, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish.
Although most of their poems are reproduced this is definitively not a book of literary criticism for the kind of student expecting someone else to dissect specific poems word-by-word for them. That’s why where they are reproduced, they appear at the end of a chapter, not the beginning. By that time my hope is you will be just itching to read them.
Poetry is all about economy. Poets pack meaning into few words. No other kind of writer does this. Poems are like fireworks stuffed full, not with exotic chemicals, but with ideas. When you read them: you light the touch paper. This book will show you how to light the touch paper for yourself.
Some of the poems you may have heard of, others, almost certainly not, but for each of them I have used the same simple process of taking it as the starting point for an essay about the world we all know and live in today. That’s what happens when you light the touch paper. The poem ignites something in you about in the world you personally inhabit, the space you occupy in history and the people you have shared irreplaceable hours with.
If any of the essays amuse, entertain, enlighten or delight you then The Point of Poetry will have done its job. But if they send you rushing to the end in search of the poem, to light its touch paper for yourself, then I will quietly and secretly rejoice.