Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry
with contributions by Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, George Elliot Clarke, and others
ISBN 9780889773714 $27.95
Published by U of R Press
Review by Tanya Foster
For the creative writer or the poetry reader or the literary specialist, a collection of essays by poets on poetry is an enticement. Many such collections have been written—some consider the poetic process; others uphold various theoretical positions; and others are structured around literary or historical periods. This collection, entitled Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry, is, above all a tribute to poetry. The writers showcase the transfigurative power of poetry—the life-giving, community-building, reality-defining, other-centering possibilities of poetry.
As a creative reader, reading this collection will help to unlock a poetic impulse. One of the dominant ideas from the collection is that poetry’s capacity for making connections has transformative power. How often do we try to grab onto a hazy idea that eludes our intellect or try to express what an experience meant but can’t find the language? Metaphor, argue many of the authors, is what poets most rely on to bring connections between what is known and what is unknown. Metaphor offers us access into ideas and experiences that we could not quite grasp; it gives language to reality.
When these poets describe the transformative nature of poetry, they are opening up the possibilities of poetry—it is possible for poetry to hold together polarities and it is possible for poetry to bend and stretch to make room for the human imagination. Not only do these essays offer fresh lenses for viewing life, they also give us unique approaches to reading poetry (and other literature). To that end, this collection will serve very well for students studying poetry, especially any of the poetry written by the authors who offer glimpses of their poetics. The title of this collection should be read as a warning—you will be astonished. You will be amazed by the power of poetry—one of the greatest forces in the universe. Your aesthetic sensibilities will be awakened as you are introduced to new ways of seeing and entering into poetic beauty.
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