Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations
Michelle Evory, Kalamazoo Community College
Pub Date: 2018
ISBN 13: 978-1-9423414-9-9
Publisher: Open SUNY
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This textbook does a great job of covering in satisfying detail a broad range of forms and activities that scaffold all stages of the composition read more
This textbook does a great job of covering in satisfying detail a broad range of forms and activities that scaffold all stages of the composition process, from journaling to publication. In terms of technical instruction, it provides thorough support for beginning writers. However, it does a mediocre job of providing a broadly inclusive range of content, instead limiting its selection to mainly white poets who came to prominence in the mid- to late twentieth century.
The instruction on forms and techniques is accurate, and definitions are error-free. There is a selection bias towards narrative, confessional and late modernist forms of poetry. This means that the chapters on voice, acoustics, architecture and form take up a much narrower set of instructive examples than what currently exists in contemporary poetic practice.
As a primer on poetic terms and techniques this will remain relevant into the foreseeable future, particularly the chapters on reading, images, revision and publication. However, the overall selection of poems is fairly conservative and backwards-looking, towards narrative poets who took their place in the American literary canon more than one generation ago Richard Hugo, William Heyen, William Stafford, Billy Collins, James Wright, Phillip Levine, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, and Muriel Rukeyser are all fine poets, but their preponderance at the expense of more contemporary and experimental work, particularly work by poets of color, belies the subtitle, “Poetry for New Generations”.
The writing style is lucid, down-to-earth and empathetic. It explains terms and activities in a clear, relatable voice that demystifies and engages without oversimplifying. This personable, often wry tone makes this a good choice for beginning poets, as it answers many questions it may not occur to some to ask, without ever being boring, tedious or arcane.
The terms and frameworks are consistent and logically arranged.
The chapters and subsections are excellently divided to accommodate different levels of classes, from beginning to advanced. An introductory class could work its way through all chapters in order, while a more advanced class could focus on perfecting certain techniques (voice, architecture, etc.) as well as publication. The chapters on reading, architecture and forms could even be used in a literature class to engage students in a more hands-on approach to accessing the poems of Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, et al.
The organization is excellent, flowing naturally from how to begin to read and write poetically, lyrically and/or figuratively to how to get work published. The ordering of activities and the clear step-by-step explanation of how to undertake them is thorough, logical and clear.
The interface works seamlessly, and the links to external sites like the Poetry Foundation offer a kind of built-in or supplementary update that allows students and professors to make use of a much wider and newer range of published poems.
I did not find any grammatical errors.
This textbook is discouragingly limited to mainly white poets writing in a narrative tradition, which offers students an unduly narrow introduction to poetry in English. While choosing poets who have already been admitted to the twentieth century American literary canon obviously risks less dissent with academic consensus, this apparently safe choice ultimately impoverishes the resulting anthology by excluding the much fuller and richer scope of American poetry. By largely excluding contemporary and postmodern poets, and especially poets of color, this text closes more doors to poetry than it opens.
This book is an excellent overview of the art of reading and writing poetry for an introductory college course or an advanced secondary school read more
This book is an excellent overview of the art of reading and writing poetry for an introductory college course or an advanced secondary school course. It feels as though it examines all important points. Of course, poetry is a vast topic; still, this does a good job of setting a foundation for additional studies.
Poetry is necessarily subjective, but the author explains her reasoning and encourages alternative interpretations. All definitions are accurate, and where there is controversy, the author quotes a number of experts.
The poems referenced range from (mostly) the 1980s-2010s. Occasional references to texting and other modern (as of this review) practices. I would say that the poetry will need updating every decade or so. The author could be making more use of hypertext poetry and the fact that the text is online (fill-in-the-blank activities, etc.)
This book elucidates complicated topics with extreme clarity and explanation. Using sophisticated academic vocabulary, this text is still accessible. That said, the second on meter could have more explanation.
This book is consistent in voice and format.
It is split up logically into 10 chapters which would, along with a few weeks of workshop, make for a perfect university semester.
Extremely well organized. Each chapter builds upon previous knowledge. The topic and subject matter are clear.
The format is basic but highly legible. A few broken links. There could be greater intra-textual links in the book (like to the vocabulary section in the end, and from chapter title to chapter).
: I found no typos nor grammar errors.
The author seems to have chosen a fairly ethnically diverse group of poets. Great diversity could always be achieved. Students are encouraged to pick their own poems from the Poetry Foundation website, so those in search of specific kinds of poetry can find it there.
I would love to adopt this text for my introduction to fiction writing class. Can the author please write equivalent texts for drama and fiction? This text's activities assume an in-person classroom. I teach online, and some activities that don't require others to participate, or that can be "graded" would be helpful, as would a section on writing prompts for full poems. I'd love more activities for students to choose from.
Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations does an excellent job outlining an approach to reading poetry, crafting poetry, read more
Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations does an excellent job outlining an approach to reading poetry, crafting poetry, revision, and potential venues for poetry. It defines craft elements well and is a good resource for beginning poets. The audience seems to be undergraduate introductory poetry writing courses. It does a great job defining its terms and providing easy navigation through chapters and topics.
There are many aspects to this book that, due to its subject of poetry, can’t be classified as “accurate” or not, but the more concrete concepts are both accurate and carefully examined. The more subjective aspects make it hard to rate in the framework of “unbiased” or “accurate.” For example, there were suggestions I disagreed with, but that doesn’t make them “biased” or “inaccurate,” such as Evory’s discussion of “Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate Diction.”
The book does a good job of spotlighting some contemporary poetry alongside references to more traditional examples of poetry. I would have liked to have seen more contemporary examples of poets publishing now—especially poets of color. This seems even more pertinent when considering this book because of its title’s assertion that this is a text for “new generations.” I’d like to see more diversity in the voices presented here, overall.
Evory’s tone is very accessible and generous, peppered with wit and humor. She clearly explains all terminology and provides ample context for her subjects. The book is a refreshing balance of interconnected philosophical musings, practical instruction on craft, and explorations in the relevance of the consilience of these parts.
Each section of the book is consistent in both style and amount of focus on various subtopics.
The sections of this text could make class planning quite easy, as it seems to have been designed with such a structure in mind. Within the text, the interludes of discussion prompts feel intuitive to the style of classroom discussion, and the activity prompts arrive at entirely appropriate moments. What is traditionally left to the instructor to plan, Evory has anticipated and offered here in an unobtrusive way.
I appreciate how the author begins the text with a generous introduction, meeting the student where she is—that is, the tone and exploration begins with an attempt to dispel the notion that one is either a poet or not a poet. This entrance into the subject takes the student seriously and sheds the knee-jerk reaction inexperienced writers sometimes have in self-judgment. By angling the exploration to the concept of “play,” the author levels the playing field and gives permission to explore without criticism. She moves on from the introduction in a logical order through craft elements. I especially appreciated how Evory examined the entire “life” of a poem, from inspiration/reading of others’ works, to craft, to revision, to performance in public readings, to publication.
The interface is intuitive and makes good use of the electronic format by providing appropriate links to referenced material without overloading the reader with these accessories. At times, I wished the author had chosen different web links than some presented here (for instance, I prefer not to be linked to Wikipedia as a source). There are some links that navigate to a page that is unrelated to the text, so I assume these are mistakes.
The text is clean and free of grammatical errors. I only noticed a couple of instances where the formatting was off, but this wasn’t distracting.
As for cultural relevance, I felt the book could use more diversity in the authors it quotes and the styles, forms, voices, and subject matters of the poetry it presents as examples, especially for a book that is aimed at “new generations.”
Table of Contents
Preface for Instructors
Introduction: Our Natural Right to Play
- Chapter One: Getting Started: The Nine Muses
- Chapter Two: Welcome, Reader: Reading Poetry
- Chapter Three: Images
- Chapter Four: Voice
- Chapter Five: Architecture
- Chapter Six: Acoustics
- Chapter Seven: Experimenting with Forms
- Chapter Eight: Revision
- Chapter Nine: Publication
- Chapter Ten: Reading Your Poems to an Audience
Concrete Word List
Abstract Word List
Recommended Accompanying Resources
About the Book
Informed by a writing philosophy that values both spontaneity and discipline, Michelle Bonczek Evory’s Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations offers practical advice and strategies for developing a writing process that is centered on play and supported by an understanding of America’s rich literary traditions. With consideration to the psychology of invention, Bonczek Evory provides students with exercises aimed to make writing in its early stages a form of play that gives way to more enriching insights through revision, embracing the writing of poetry as both a love of language and a tool that enables us to explore ourselves and better understand the world. The volume includes resources for students seeking to publish and build a writing-centered lifestyle or career. Poets featured range in age, subject, and style, and many are connected to colleges in the State University of New York system. Naming the Unnameable promotes an understanding of poetry as a living art of which students are a part, and provides ways for students to involve themselves in the growing contemporary poetry community that thrives in America today.
About the Contributors
Michelle Bonczek Evory is the author of The Art of the Nipple (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2013) and a mentor at The Poet’s Billow (thepoetsbillow.com). Her poetry is featured in the Best New Poets 2013 anthology and has been published in over seventy journals and magazines, including Crazyhorse, cream city review, Green Mountains Review, New Millennium Writings, Orion Magazine, and The Progressive. She holds a PhD from Western Michigan University, an MFA from Eastern Washington University, an MA from SUNY Brockport, was previously a Visiting Professor at The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and is currently a part time professor at Western Michigan University and an adjunct professor Kalamazoo Community College.