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This review is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

INDEPENDENT READINGS RUTH PADEL, 52 Ways of Looking At a Poem or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life (Chatto & Windus) £12.99

Ruth Padel's weekly Independent on Sunday column analysing a short modern poem found a public so eager for her model readings that a projected six-week venture ran for two and a half years and gained greater space as its mailbag increased. Padel has collected fifty two of the pieces, revised and restructured, adding a fifty page survey 'Reading British Poetry Today'.

In many ways the book complements James Fenton's recent beginner's guide to prosody, An Introduction to English Poetry. If one of his undeclared aims was to enable the uninitiated to become better readers of poetry by giving the basic 'rules of the game', there was no rationale as to why the rules might be applied when it came to writing verse. In her introduction, Padel is equally shy of what she feels about 'the rules', declaring at one point that 'Rhyme makes an idea feel like law' (in a positive authoritative sense), then shying away from set patterns in favour of a vague 'persuasive cohesion'. As for metre, she says poets should be 'aware' of iambic pentameter, noting how Pound and Eliot developed a 'counterpoint against an imagined iambic line', but then gratefully embraces the arrival of free verse as a 'new point of exploration, freeing you to say new things in new ways'. That this new point of exploration has been with us for more than a century (taking in earlier French departures) is a point that could have been mentioned. The rest of the ...


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