Literary critic’s new book explores the nuances of penning a poem  

“The history of American poetry, like the history of America itself, is a story of ingenuity, sacrifice, hard work, and sticking it to people when they least expect it,” writes David Orr in his new book, “You, Too, Could Write a Poem.”

Orr, professor of the practice in the English Department, gives a literary critic’s perspective on the craft that is behind penning some of the best works in poetry. Orr says he relates most closely to Robert Frost in his relationship to poetry.  “Robert Frost once said he had a lover’s quarrel with the world. I’d say I have a long time spouse’s recurrent impatience with poetry.”

This relationship is reflected in the collection, in which Orr brings together 15 years of his most outstanding essays and reviews, such as “The Happy Couplet” and “Annals of Poetry.” These essays delve into the technique of poetry writing as well as critique some of the most well-known poets such as Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Hass.

The book also weighs in on contemporary literary styles and forms and explores how academia and creative writing intersect and other issues such as whether great poets still exist today and what to make of the “small” audience that poetry has today.

 Orr, an award-winning poetry columnist for the New York Times, has been described by the Christian Science Monitor as “the smart, provocative guy who is invited to every dinner party because he’s so insightful and often makes people laugh.” Reviewers of his new book, such as Elizabeth Lund, say that Orr frames many of his pieces much like a lawyer, “Orr structures many of his pieces the way a lawyer would, examining a position in detail and addressing counterpoints.” This technique has been attributed to his law degree, earned at Yale after Orr graduated from Princeton.

One of the most provocative aspects of his new book may be the title itself, which comes from a piece Orr wrote about the popular anthology series “The Best American Poetry.”

“The implicit premise of the series, I say, is that American poetry is a community activity in which (in theory) any of us could participate. So ‘you, too, could write a poem,’” Orr said about the inspiration behind the title, “But as I also try to suggest, the guild-like qualities of the contemporary poetry world, as well as the art form’s elitist heritage, are always in tension with this invitation. So you might say the title is both earnest and ironic, or maybe just earnestly ironic.”


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 David Orr