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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

SHAPING SPIRITS The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland (W.W. Norton) £19.95

Several nights have passed too quickly with this wonderful anthology in hand. Strand and Boland's approach is based on the belief that a writer wanting to learn about the various verse forms can do no better than to read seminal examples of those forms. Theirs is exactly the kind of book our writer would want to turn to.

It collects a number of examples of each of the eight traditional forms the editors have selected- the villanelle, the sestina, the pantoum, the sonnet, blank verse, the ballad, the heroic couplet and stanzaic verse. This accounts for roughly half the book. And then they have chosen works in a range of forms that embody what they hold to be the encompassing thematic contexts of poetry: elegy, pastoral, ode. As they put it in their 'Overview' of this section: 'If metrical forms are the architecture of poetry, then the shaping forms of ode, elegy, and pastoral are its environment.' Sandwiched between these two sections is a very brief (two pages!) and surprisingly sufficient section on metre. Finally, there is a section entitled 'Open Forms', in which Strand and Boland place poems that push against formal restraints - not poems that throw them out entirely (of which, of course, they could have selected many examples), but poems that engage thoughtfully and self-consciously with form and history, poems that make knowing accommodations with tradition.

It is a premise of the collection that any poem enters into dialogue with the ...


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