Who among us hasn't composed a few lines of poetry at one time or another? And who among us hasn't uttered a rhyming couplet and then laughed it off, saying, "I'm a poet and I didn't even know it"?
British author, comedian and actor Stephen Fry not only admits to writing poetry in The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within (Gotham, 352 pages, $15), now out in paperback, but also believes ...
... that if one can read and speak, one can write poetry. Fancy that.
Fry lays out some Golden Rules:
Read poetry slowly: "Poetry is not made to be sucked up like a child's milkshake, it is much better sipped like a precious malt whisky."
Never worry about “meaning": "However elusive and 'difficult' the story or argument of a poem may seem to be and however resistant to simple interpretation, it is not a test of your intelligence and learning (or if it is, it is not worth persevering with)."
Buy a notebook and bring it with you everywhere: "When you are waiting for someone, stuck in an airport, travelling by train, just doodle with words."
Jolly good advice — and there’s more, with chapters on metre, rhyme, form and diction. There is also step-by-step advice, practical exercises and a helpful glossary of poetic terms.
I had fun with this book, which I think would be of great value to anyone being forced to study poetry against their will or better judgment. Fry is witty and clever, and when he implored me to not read any further until I tried an exercise, such as writing 20 lines of iambic pentameter, by Jove, I did it!
Fry hovers over the material like an overzealous schoolmaster, but it's comforting and endearing. Poetry is obviously a passion for him, it's a wonder he hasn't published any. He's written several novels, an autobiography, acted on stage and screen and is the reader of the British audio version of the Harry Potter novels. Why not publish some poetry? Given his talent in those other areas, I can't imagine it being anything but enjoyable.
In the foreword, Fry discusses the secret passions of others — what folks do to wind down, relax. Some paint, play music, tend a garden. He writes poetry: "For me the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration and spiritual adventure all in one inexpensive package."