Alice B. Fogel,
Strange Terrain: a Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader
(Hobblebush, 2009)

In this book, poet Alice B. Fogel offers a way into poetry for people who don't get it. In fact, "getting it" is not the major point of reading poetry, she says. In her foreword, she points out that the word "interpretation" does not appear in the book and that the traditionally taught aspects of poetry -- scansion, metrics, latinate names for concepts, rhyme schemes and all of that stuff -- are not discussed. Her goal, she says, is to help "the intelligent, amateur reader feel more comfortable in the world of poetry."

This is a good goal. Often, texts about poetry make the art seem precious and deliberately obscure. They connote that the goal is a proper decoding so that readers come away from a poem with a headache and a "who gives a damn" attitude. Instead, she tries to get at poetry by discussing the way the poem looks on the page, sound values and images, what poetry can make you feel as well as what it can make you think. It's a valuable approach and the discussion is both informative and fun.

If there is a weakness to the book, it is this: all of Fogel's examples come from her own poems. Strange Terrain is at one and the same time a textbook about poetry and a collection of Fogel's work. Although I'm sure this isn't her purpose, the book comes across not so much as a method for reading poetry but instead a method for reading Vogel's poetry. Bringing in other people's work would have made for a richer book.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 June 2009

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