The Ode Less Travelled, book cover

Unlocking the Poet Within – A Poetry Writing Course to be Enjoyed

Stephen Fry harbours a dark secret which he shares with the reader of The Ode Less Travelled. A reader who follows the course to the end may also end up as a closet poet.

Stephen Fry admits that he has “... a dark and dreadful secret, I write poetry. This is an embarrassing confession for an adult to make”. He makes the point that almost any endeavour can be enjoyed as a pastime but somehow poetry, with few youthful exceptions, seems to be beyond the pale.

Although a widely published writer of many forms, for Fry his poetry is a purely private diversion that fulfils a wide range of needs for relaxation, confession and more. The beauty of writing poetry is that it is inexpensive and can be enjoyed anywhere.

How to Read the Book; Three Golden Rules

Stephen Fry sets out three essential rules for reading his book. He likens them to the terms and conditions that must be accepted before installing computer software.

  • Rule 1: Take Your Time and read poetry slowly, many times over. Enjoy poetry through “... slow, luxurious engagement with its language and rhythms”. Read out loud; or if not appropriate, do so in one’s head but move one’s lips; relish it.
  • Rule 2: Never Worry About “Meaning”. The author makes the point that many people are put off poetry because so much teaching is about analysis and meaning rather than enjoying the poetry and language. He advises meaning will come by following Rule 1 and giving a poem time.
  • Rule 3: Take Pencil and Notebook Everywhere and use any idle moments to “just doodle with words” and practice rather as artists make sketches at every opportunity.

A Poetry Writing Course

The Ode Less Travelled is structured as a course in writing poetry and moves along at a fair old lick but the drills and admonishment to read all the poetry and excerpts moderate the pace. As Stephen Fry insists that one should take time with poetry the same is true of his book. Enjoy the richness of his language – this is not a dry “how to” book dashed off by a hack. It is crafted with love and skill and so warrants similar attention from the reader.

Each aspect of poetry is explained without condescension or pretension using extracts from the greats: Shakespeare, Milton, Longfellow, Auden, Sidney, Owen – they are all in this book. It soon starts to make sense and the drills which at first feel daunting soon become fun and encourage further effort.

The Ode Less Travelled covers the whole gamut of poetic forms, structure and metre (meter) and will give the budding poet the platform to develop with a sound understanding of the essential tools, techniques and language.

Like Fry himself, many readers will soon be experimenting with their own poetry and returning to long forgotten poets. No student should be required to study poetry until they have completed The Ode Less Travelled course. But then they might not want to study poetry; just enjoy it!

The Best Possible Introduction to Poetry – Bar None

In The Ode Less Travelled Stephen Fry is his usual erudite self. The book glows with his enthusiasm and no lover of language or writer should fail to be inspired by this book. Even the exercises become fun and a writer, whatever they write, can only benefit from the understanding of poetry, and the rhythms of language, this book will provide.

The Ode Less Travelled (ISBN:978-0-09-950934-9) by Stephen Fry is published in paperback by Arrow Books at £7.99 (Canada $19.99)

A Poetry Reading Course

Finally this book should encourage readers who were put off poetry at school or college by the academic emphasis on analysis and meaning. They will find that Fry’s passion and love of prosody (the art of versification) is infectious and will want to revisit those half-remembered poems with a new approach – just to read and enjoy them.

Start by enjoying An Ode Less Travelled; it could be life-changing.


First appeared on Suite101

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