The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt

I’m a big poetry fan. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I did my dissertation on the poetry of Philip Larkin, someone I consider to be particularly more accessible to readers than, perhaps, Shakespeare. Some people are afraid of poetry, many members of my own family, in fact, and no matter what I say or do can convince them that reading poetry is a pleasurable activity. When I was very kindly asked to be on the blog tour for Joe Nutt’s The Point of Poetry, I jumped at the chance, not because I needed convincing of the benefits of reading poetry, but because I wanted some justification for the argument that I’ve been having for a long time: poetry is to be enjoyed, not endured.

Here’s the blurb:

What’s the point of poetry? It’s a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but it rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many people, who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school. Exploring twenty-two works from poets as varied as William Blake, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish, this book makes the case for what poetry has to offer us, what it can tell us about the things that matter in life.

Each poem is discussed with humour and refreshing clarity, using a mixture of anecdote and literary criticism that has been honed over a lifetime of teaching. Poetry can enrich our lives, if we will let it. The Point of Poetry is the perfect companion for anyone looking to discover how.

The Point of Poetry is an interesting look at how poetry can be accessible to all. Nutt gives us a gentle introduction to some great poems, and some useful techniques on how to read poems without being completely lost in a literary device fog.  With each poem he has chosen to introduce the reader to, he entices them to give poetry a chance where they might not have done before. He describes how the poem works and picks out phrases to draw the reader in but does not give the poem in full until the end, cleverly building up the reader’s anticipation and leading them to want to read the poem as a result.

Reading poetry takes a bit of work, or at least imagination, on the part of the reader, as you need to be able to read between the often few short lines on what the poet is trying to say. Nutt doesn’t try to deny this, and some poems are easier than others to grasp, but this book allows the reader to appreciate just how much you can get from a good poem: what is essentially a condensed novel, with all the emotion of an epic novel in a few short stanzas.

Some of the poems, I liked, some I didn’t. Some I was familiar with, some I wasn’t. Yet that was partly the point. Nutt gives us a wide range of different poems, some that even he didn’t like, but the wide range of material he uses means that there is something there for everyone. For example, I’m a fan of Carol Ann Duffy and particularly enjoyed his analysis of Mrs Midas, from her The World’s Wife collection.  My old friend (or nemesis, sometimes, when I was writing my dissertation) even gets a mention, albeit fleetingly. I understood the purpose of his reference to Larkin’s poem Church-Going and I agree with the idea that Larkin cared about what the reader was bringing to the poetry party. The interpretation is on the part of the reader as much as it is on the poet, and Larkin would often draw on the day-to-day experiences that people could relate to and they could bring their own take on Larkin’s words. I’d have liked to have seen a chapter on a Philip Larkin poem. Perhaps in the next book…

The Point of Poetry is a great book for someone new to poetry or to someone who has an aversion to it, as well as those who have championed poetry, like me, but have found it falling on deaf ears. Perhaps experiences of poetry at school have scarred you for life. I genuinely think this book would help to combat that. It eases the reader in gently, by mixing more complex poems with more straightforward ones, but tells you how to read them for the best effect. There should be more books like this on the market, mini anthologies of poems with a how-to-read guide. If Joe Nutt is so inclined, this could make a great series. I’d be in the queue to read them, that’s for sure!

The Point of Poetry Cover