Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations
Michelle Bonczek Evory, Kalamazoo Community College
Copyright Year: 2018
ISBN 13: 9781942341499
Publisher: Open SUNY
Conditions of Use
This book is a thoughtful guide to writing poetry, with attention to many of the building blocks of poems, both formalist and free-verse. The poems included are mostly English-language (few translated poems) and from the modern/contemporary... read more
This book is a thoughtful guide to writing poetry, with attention to many of the building blocks of poems, both formalist and free-verse. The poems included are mostly English-language (few translated poems) and from the modern/contemporary period. There are some mentions of more experimental “schools” of poetry—lots of the Surrealists, a bit of the Black Mountain Poets—but overall the book’s concerns tend toward lyric and narrative poetry. From the perspective of some instructors, this book might be seen to lack consideration of the Language Poetry branch of contemporary writing.
I found this book well-informed in its claims, yet quite approachable: discussions of meter and perspective, for example, are grounded in easy-to-understand examples.
I think this book is likely to remain up-to-date for a long time, though I would add that, depending on the instructor’s taste, the heavy emphasis on lyric/narrative poetry might foreclose students’ encountering other forms and theories of poetry (documentary poetry, prose poetry, etc.).
This book is written in clear and engaging language, which neither condescends nor speaks over students’ heads.
The author does a good job establishing her framework, and she defines her terms in a way that’s thorough without being overwhelming.
The structure of this book is very thoughtful: each chapter builds upon the previous one, but any one chapter could stand alone as well. Some chapters, such as “Voice,” would even be at home in a writing class on fiction or narrative nonfiction.
This is a well-organized book, which moves smoothly from early generative exercises to late-stage revision. The chapters on publication and public readings are a nice place to end, because they suggest that students’ journeys as poets can and should continue beyond the scope of the course.
I found this book very easy to use.
Aside from a few very small typos (extra spaces, missing commas, missing italics), there were no major errors, and no errors that compromised the meaning.
This book feels culturally sensitive, and includes a pretty good diversity of examples. The list of different poetic forms is a strength, as it draws from many time periods and from all over the world. There might have been more poems in translation, though this is perhaps justifiable; I can understand why the author might have wanted to avoid the multiple variables of the translator’s choices on top of the poet’s.
I appreciated that this book offers students an invitation to take their writing seriously, while maintaining a sense of humor and fun in the undertaking.
This book is a comprehensive introduction to poetry writing for students encountering the genre for the first time. read more
This book is a comprehensive introduction to poetry writing for students encountering the genre for the first time.
The book seems quite accurate and well-proofed.
This is a novel and engaging approach to teaching poetry, and it's audience isn't likely to be delimited to the current generation of college-aged students.
The book is written in lucid, engaging prose.
I didn't find any inconsistencies on a first read.
Different sections of the book could certainly be adapted for different courses, and it need not be read within the strict sequence of chapters.
The book is remarkably clear and logical.
I did not encounter any interface issues.
I did not find any grammatical errors.
There is consistent attention to presenting an array of diverse writers and voices.
This is an engaging book, perfect for an introductory course in poetry writing.
The book is mostly very comprehensive. It manages to cover important elements for reading and writing poetry, while also offering helpful, interactive tips and exercises throughout. My main criticism with the book's comprehensiveness--and perhaps... read more
The book is mostly very comprehensive. It manages to cover important elements for reading and writing poetry, while also offering helpful, interactive tips and exercises throughout. My main criticism with the book's comprehensiveness--and perhaps my main criticism in general--is that many chapters seem to squeeze in too much information that could be overwhelming or unnecessary for beginning writers. The author's explanations can sometimes feel overly exhaustive, verging on pedantic, prescriptive, and even (unintentionally) condescending at times (e.g., giving both Latin and Anglo definitions; explaining how to use active verbs in different tenses; long, detailed, line-by-line close-readings of poems, etc.). I also would have liked more useful information about meter and scansion. Instead of explaining how to hear meter and how to practice scansion, the author simply defines different types of meters, which, arguably, beginning writing students don't really need to know.
The author is an authority on poetry. She references poetic theory and offers several useful quotes from poets about their poetics and philosophies. The poems included are culturally and racially diverse and inclusive, and both contemporary and canonical. I only wish the information was presented in a less prescriptive way. While the author often offers helpful advice and information, it seems counterintuitive to encourage play and experimentation while also instructing writers about what they should and shouldn't do in poems. To me, the delivery of the information at times--which is separate from the information itself--was problematic.
A major strength of the book is its lasting quality. I could foresee using this book for years. It also has the capability of being used to supplement craft-related lessons/exercises, and in this way is very versatile.
The author presents ideas and information in a clear, lucid way. I don't see students struggling to comprehend the information being explained. But I do see them struggling with finding the information tedious, unnecessary, and sometimes overly-explained. I worry students might rely on skimming or even lose interest/focus for the some of the longer chapters.
The book is well structured and easy to follow and use.
There are clear headings and chapters, but sometimes there are enormous blocks of text that can be hard to follow (e.g., close, line-by-line readings of poems). It also would have been appreciated if the author chose poets besides herself to give examples of how revision can work.
It is mostly very organized, although I wasn't always sure about some of the chapters. In the chapter on images, for example, it wasn't clear why figures of speech, cliches, and figurative language were included. Figurative language merits its own chapter, when here it seems merely tacked on at the end of the chapter.
The book is very user-friendly. It includes links, resources, and other helpful information, which are easy to find and use.
The book is grammatically sound.
The book includes poets of different races, cultures, backgrounds, schools of poetry, etc., and a variety of subject matter. I also like how both contemporary and canonical works are included.
I liked many aspects of this book and would definitely use different parts of it to supplement my curriculum.
Constructing a holistic approach to poetry for undergraduate students is no small task, but Bonczek Evory does a solid job of weaving difficult explication with relevant and powerful poetic examples. “Naming the Unnameable” would be an excellent... read more
Constructing a holistic approach to poetry for undergraduate students is no small task, but Bonczek Evory does a solid job of weaving difficult explication with relevant and powerful poetic examples. “Naming the Unnameable” would be an excellent text to supplement an introductory poetry class and give students a strong repertoire to explore the depth of what poetry has to offer. In addition to her explication of traditional poetic forms and theories, Bonczek Evory provides essential tips and procedures on developing effective writing habits, reading lists, and revision processes. When you also include the handy glossary at the end, “Naming the Unnameable” is a great resource for students and teachers alike.
The text’s terminology and analysis is accurate, well-versed, and effective in gently guiding a reader to Bonczek Evory’s many ideas and strategies. Her selection of poetic examples are relevant to their respective discussions and showcase the text’s potent educational framework. In summary, the text is built on a strong foundation that maintains just enough adaptability to keep its relevancy.
For a book dealing with so much contemporary poetry, I wish that it would include hip-hop as a part of its archive. The current state of poetry is urgent in its fluidity; both in content and form, and while Bonczek Evory’s examples are thoughtful, a more inclusive poetic spectrum of examples would better serve her readers.
The text is clear and concise, and the detailed sections often left me inspired to write poetry. Bonczek Evory’s writing prompts and instructions are direct in their language, hopefully avoiding any educational pitfalls due to miscommunication or unclear directions.
The diction and tone maintain a light-hearted, approachable feel throughout the text, keeping its readers in line with Bonczek Evory’s logic and flow from chapter to chapter. Her pedagogical approach is clear from her strategic placement of activities, discussion prompts, and anecdotes. The book’s vision is precise and every pattern aims to achieve it.
The book is conveniently divided into 10 chapters that are flexible enough to fit with a teacher’s individual class structure while still providing enough material for comprehensive lessons on its own. The content of the individual chapters is extensive and lend themselves well to be expanded upon for lecture.
The organization/structure of the book follows the logic of teaching students how to write and read poetry so that they are then prepared for analysis and application. However, I think the book would have been organized more efficiently if Chapter Ten “Reading Your Poems to an Audience” was put after Chapter Two “Welcome, Reader: Reading Poetry” as a way of solidifying an introductory student’s grasp of the poetic process and its manifestations, both sonic and literary. The logic behind organizing Chapters Three to Nine in the order they are in makes sense, but I would rearrange the sections into a pedagogical framework that would showcase more of a movement from applied practice/knowledge to literary publication. In my opinion, the flow of Bonczek Evory’s text would be better suited if Chapter Five “Architecture” was placed before Chapter Three “Images,” so that students can understand the framework of poetry before going into the finite details of images, voices, and acoustics. Chapter Seven “Experimenting with Forms” creates the perfect fork in the road for instruction: if the class is a little more publication-oriented, Chapters Eight and Nine are perfect for further instruction, but if the individual class needs a different direction, then the instructor can use Bonczek Evory’s foundation to explore new territories.
There are some link errors, namely the Traci Brimhall link in Chapter Four, and the text numbers in some versions do not properly correspond. There are some nice features of the online version, particularly the option to increase font size, that would provide more accessibility for students. The fact that there are some links to outside sources is well-welcomed and useful for instruction.
As far as I know, I could not find any grammatical errors. The text is a comfortable read, so if any were even present, they don’t affect comprehension.
The poetic examples in this text align with the same canon many instructors are familiar with, so teaching from these examples wouldn’t be charting in too much unfamiliar territory. I applaud Bonczek Evory’s efforts on including a chapter that challenges students to experiment with forms, but there were many moments in the book where she fails to utilize the literary component of popular music to broaden students’ understanding of poetry. Songwriting and lyrical poetry are relevant and necessary literary elements for students to critically access and explore in their poetic repertoire, and hopefully this can be changed in a future edition.
"I found this textbook in full to be tremendously useful. It covers ground that very few poetry textbooks do, such as how to submit poems for publication and how to read poems for an audience. The chapters on ""Image,"" ""Voice,""... read more
"I found this textbook in full to be tremendously useful. It covers ground that very few poetry textbooks do, such as how to submit poems for publication and how to read poems for an audience. The chapters on ""Image,"" ""Voice,"" ""Architecture,"" ""Acoustics,"" and Experimenting with Forms"" provide especially apt descriptions of concepts that poets need to know, as well as brilliant and approachable accompanying exercises. I found that this book mostly goes above and beyond in encompassing the subject of writing poetry. The accompanying materials at the end, such as the list of key terms, the lists of concrete and abstract words, the recommended accompanying resources, and the works cited page organized by chapter, are all immensely useful. However, there is no index in this book. Although the list of key terms at the end is an extremely helpful learning accompaniment, being able to locate a term within the larger context is crucial for me in teaching."
I found all information to be accurate. As for un-biased, I'm not sure that any sincere guide on writing poetry can be unbiased. That said, Bonczek Every's biases are very much in line with my own teaching philosophy, which is that enforcing the act of play, more so than focusing on achieving some kind of "mastery," is what is important in teaching writing poetry or any genre. I love how she emphasizes the necessity that a writer have absolute freedom, and be able to tune out self-criticism. I also very much agree with her assertion that poems are not necessarily ever finished. These are all certain kinds of biases, but ones that I have found to be extraordinarily conducive to giving our students permission to write, and to silence their inner critics.
One aspect of the text I found particularly relevant and up-to-date was the writer's chapter on submitting poems for publication. Bonczek Every provides fantastic emotional tools for getting through any potential anxiety of the submission process, as well as tangible tools such as guidance on how to write a cover letter. I would, however, have liked to see much more inclusion in the poets selected for example poems and quotes about writing. There is a lot of space given to canonized poets in this text, and while I understand that the text aims to situate its readers in a lineage of poets, I think it ought to consider a more inclusive lineage. There certainly are some diverse poets integrated into the text, but it feels that the "masters" could have been used more minimally to make even more space for marginalized writers; as of now, the most page time goes to the "greats" of the western tradition.
I found this text to be clearly as well as beautifully and personably-written. It's not often that one can say that a textbook is a lovely reading experience, but this one is, and that is due to how Bonczek Every merges style with clarity -- this is a book on writing that is so clearly written by a writer. She absolutely provides adequate context for all technical terminology, and defines terms clearly and completely.
I found this text to be extremely consistent in its uses of terms, and how concepts were used and/or repeated throughout the overall framework.
The author does a wonderful job breaking down the main concepts of learning to write poetry into manageable yet thorough chunks.
I did have a small amount of difficulty with the format. I was not so fond of the way that several modules and reading sections are broken into blocks, such as those holding Activities or Discussions. It's confusing and interrupts my engagement with the text when these blocks are broken up over multiple pages -- it also doesn't seem necessary, as one could easily shift the modules down so that they have their own space. The same goes for poems that are included in the textbook -- to have poems broken up between pages can be somewhat of an irritation, particularly when form is so crucial to one's reading, and that's a large part of what the book is attempting to teach. Otherwise, the topics are presented clearly and logically.
I did not have any interface issues in my reading of the PDF, but the I did notice that the textbook would benefit from having the links in bold as well as in blue, for differently-abled readers.
I noticed no grammatical errors.
Again, I did think that the writer could have de-centered canonized poets a bit, but I also acknowledge and appreciate her recommendation in the Preface for Instructors to use the textbook alongside "a full contemporary collection of poems" or "a copy of a recent literary journal."
Naming the Unnameable would be an excellent text for an introductory level poetry class, as it addresses all of the foundational aspects of poetry that are important for the beginning poet to learn about. In addition to discussing traditional... read more
Naming the Unnameable would be an excellent text for an introductory level poetry class, as it addresses all of the foundational aspects of poetry that are important for the beginning poet to learn about. In addition to discussing traditional concepts of form and theory, Bonczek Evory includes sections about developing productive writing habits, reading widely, and revising, which are often under-addressed in craft books. Discussion questions and exercises or prompts embedded in the text seem especially helpful. The text also includes lists of key terms, recommended reading, and works cited at the back of the book, which are helpful resources to both student and instructor.
Bonczek Evory is clearly a skilled and knowledgeable poet and teacher. Her discussion of terminology, use of examples, and analysis are both accurate and accessibly written.
Because the study of poetry draws heavily on the history of the form, this book is unlikely to be outdated any time soon. The examples and links in the book can be easily updated in order to include more contemporary poetry as time goes on.
One of this book's best features is how clearly and accessibly Bonczek Evory introduces and explains concepts. Students often arrive in entry level classes highly intimidated by the complexity of poetry, and reading this text will help them understand and experiment with concepts in their own poetry and also set them at ease.
Bonczek Evory applies terminology and discusses ideas consistently throughout this text. Her tone remains inviting and her language accessible throughout. The ideas in each chapter build nicely on the ones in previous chapters, so that students can continue practicing what they have learned while adding new skills to their set.
I was pleased to discover how well this text dovetails with the way I already teach introductory poetry. Each of the ten chapters covers roughly a week's worth of material, leaving time in the course for a couple weeks of workshop throughout and revision at the end. The discussion questions and exercises included in each chapter will be especially useful in class. The only chapter that felt overly cursory to me was the one on experimenting with form. Instead of providing essentially a compendium of forms with a few examples, it might have been more useful to differentiate between fixed or metrical forms (such as the sonnet, ghazal, or pantoum) and occasional forms (elegy, aubade, etc.) and then focus on a few of each, including a few historical and contemporary examples.
The introduction to the book, in which Bonczek Evory introduces the idea that poetry is similar to play works to set students at ease with an intimidating art, and the discussion of inspiration, writing habits, and reading habits do much to dispel the idea that a poem comes to poets fully formed and perfect the moment they sit down. Once the process is demystified students are ready to learn about craft. The following chapters about image, voice, structure, sound, and traditional forms build logically on each other. Concluding by addressing revision, publication, and readings is logical, as well.
Admittedly, in order to review this textbook, I printed the PDF version, which had page numbers--something not available in the online or e-pub version of the textbook, and which I would highly recommend adding for ease of reference. I appreciated the option to read the text three different ways. I like that the online and e-pub versions provide links to outside materials, and I am sure many students prefer to read online, even though I do not.
I noticed no grammatical issues.
The chapter on experimenting with forms included many examples of western and non-western forms. The text could include a wider variety of contemporary examples throughout.
As I said, this textbook dovetails nicely with my approach to teaching beginning poetry, and I think it will be a nice supplement to the materials I currently use.
The author covers the areas that are important for students that are being introduced to poetry. The author also provides a content list that includes a list of key terms, concrete and abstract work lists. The list of key terms will help... read more
The author covers the areas that are important for students that are being introduced to poetry. The author also provides a content list that includes a list of key terms, concrete and abstract work lists. The list of key terms will help individuals that are just beginning to be introduced to poetry and its terminology. The examples the author provides are used effectively to help the reader understand the concepts and terms.
The author uses examples that are accurately implemented in the chapter where they fit. The poems when analyzed are analyzed in a way that is unbiased and gives focus on the elements of the poems.
The content the author includes in the text remains relevant to the topic of poetry. The only think that will need to be updated is the links that are included throughout the book as some of them don't work anymore. More examples that represent diversity need to be included to reflect our society.
The author provides examples and relevant information for the topic being discussed. The examples are implemented well in the prose that prevents confusion for understanding. Includes personal examples when appropriate to the discussion. The author also shifts from first-person to third-person swiftly. The author uses jargon that can be understood by students whose English language is not their first language and provides links for dictionary definitions to help those that the poetry terms are new in order for understanding to occur. The author uses the second person when addressing the reader that is clear and not misleading or confusing. This is done mostly in the activity sections. The book has the language that allows the reader to feel like they are facing the author and having a normal and simple conversation with them. However, there are a couple areas of confusion where the author includes and discusses rules that should be followed in order to be a good writer but after the rules the author shifts to the rules as routine, which was confusing. Rules vs. a routine should have been explained separately for there to be no confusion on what the author was referring to. Rules and routine are mentioned briefly but more information should have been added and the benefits of both rules and routines should have been explained. The part of “Keeping a Writing Routine” left me confusing with the brief implementation of early birds, night owls and the whole lunch poems. There needed to be more information provided about each subsection to bring all of them together. The section that followings within chapter one called “Create a Ritual” needed to be part of “Keeping a Writing Routine” as rituals can be part of routines. Some topics that were included were vague. For example, in chapter three in section about “Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate Diction,” the author introduces this topic and only briefly discusses the importance of it with three short and brief paragraphs. Examples in poems would have benefited this section. I understand that this text is introductory but there is needs to be enough information for students to understand why the section and information in it is important and included in the book.
The author provides terminology that is appropriate to poetry that describes its many forms and ways that writers can write it. The author is also consistent with the structure of the organization of the chapters.
The chapters are headed by topics that some can be assigned in different order as desired by the instructor. However, there are a couple chapters that are better to be assigned in the order the author has organized them in the book. The discussion questions and activities are placed in areas of the chapter that make sense and don’t interfere with the flow of the chapter. It would have been wonderful if the subheadings where included in the content page so students could look in the chapter and access the specific topic quicker instead of clicking on the chapter and having to scroll down and search for the subheadings.
The topics that are discussed are more organized after the first two chapters where focus is given to one topic as chapter 2-8 relate and built on each other. After reading this book, I see sections, Chapter 1-2, are about how to begin writing poetry and reading poetry, elements of writing poetry, chapter 9-10, publication and reading poetry out load. Personally these lost two chapters I would not have included in an introductory text for an introductory class. These two chapters are more appropriate for more advance classes where students are more advance as poets and know that publication is something they want to do.
I read this text through the online option and found that it was easy to navigate and understand how the layout worked. The layout was straight forward and was not confusing. The online option also provided the option to increase the font size, which would be useful for students that need or like to read the font in a bigger size. The text includes terms that are associate with people and it provides a link to the poetryfoundation.org where more about the person mentioned can be learned. However, a couple of the links has not been updated and are broken.
There were no grammatical errors that were noticeable while the text was read.
The author in the “Preface for Instructors” writes, “I believe it is important for students to master both sides of the poetry writing equation—the ability to create and be in the now, and the knowledge of what came before, so that we may feel connected to poetry’s tradition and participate in its lineage.” It’s important that students understand the tradition of poetry from the past but its important for students to know the wide breadth of poetry of the present that speaks about the diversity of America in order to fully participate in its lineage by students not only knowing the voices of Emily Dickensian, Walt Whitman, and other white poets like William Heyen. The author does include both male and female poets and a few poets of color, but the majority are still white American poets. The author includes famous poets but not much recent poets that represent the shift of new forms of writing poetry. There needs to be a balance of types of poems and poets in order for there to be cultural uniformity in the text. There is a loss of opportunity to include more diverse voices.
The book also includes a list of recommended resources that was a great additional for students that are interested in reading more about poetry. One of the things that I found was that the title of the book is somewhat misleading, especially the part about new generations approaching poetry as the new generations are never addressed. It would have been a good idea to have a beginning chapter that addresses the new generations.
Evory utilizes a well-rounded POV in "Naming the Unnameable," covering much of the same material I've taught in Intro to Poetry as well as Poetry Workshops without a textbook. This would be a nice addition to any student interested in pursuing... read more
Evory utilizes a well-rounded POV in "Naming the Unnameable," covering much of the same material I've taught in Intro to Poetry as well as Poetry Workshops without a textbook. This would be a nice addition to any student interested in pursuing poetry, as the text gives voice to many important poetic concepts while not overdoing it with literary theory. The text is straightforward and engaging, covering the needed material in highly readable ways. The index is useful but the glossary overdoes it with too many definitions of form.
Analysis is spot-on in discussion of the poems selected as examples. No issues w/ typos or poor grammar that I noticed. Focuses on contemporary approaches to poetry which I found to be both refreshing and spot-on. Evory obviously knows her stuff and communicates it in readable ways.
"Naming..." is at it's best when using poem examples combined with analysis to illustrate different poetic methods. The poems Evory chooses are ones that she seems comfortable with but aren't over-anthologized. This was refreshing as some those poems were new to me and her insights on them were nuanced and precise in their analysis. The writing exercises from this text are something I'd consider using in the future. References to Hugo's "The Triggering Town" were used effectively, as well.
Evory is an engaging writer who doesn't over-emphasize the academic aspect of poetry as much as make the reader excited to write--a pretty important aspect of a text like this. I found myself moving away from the book after finishing each chapter to start a new poem of my own as the prose gets the gears moving. I think students who are excited by writing will find themselves acting similarly, ready to try out some of the different techniques. It's all clearly laid out in well-defined ways.
Evory knows what she's writing about as she defines craft in thoughtful passages that feel as if the reader is accumulating knowledge and techniques as they move through these readable pages. She has a clear point of entrance to poetry and knows the direction she wants to take the reader in. This is clear in the paths she takes and reinforces throughout.
My only issue here is that it felt like some of chapters could've been divided into more manageable pieces as I sometimes felt that concepts and ideas were nicely explored only to see them go on for a few pages longer than expected. Nothing wrong with showing dedication and thoroughness but knowing student attention spans it may be better to have more chapters that lean toward concision than a few lengthy ones.
Evory is clear-minded and thoughtful in the ways she presents material. The presentation also builds the readers enthusiasm for both the art and craft of poetry, as a any writer excited about the prospect of creating new material will find themselves in a place prepared to do so after spending any amount of time with this book.
The links to poems and essays are a nice touch while everything is clearly laid out. Perhaps poems would be better displayed covering only one page rather than bleeding over into the next which made the reading lose power in some places because of the pause needed to move to the next page. Otherwise the font size, use of color headings and bold type are all very nice. One thing that's a bit confusing was the text's pages doesn't correlate to the PDF page numbers--a bit confusing when trying to find things or point out things to students in class. Perhaps not being a digital native and preferring hard copy makes this issue unique to my generation and wouldn't be an issue for others.
I came across no grammatical errors and felt the writing to be informative as well as engaging.
I felt that the poem examples were from a wide range of mostly contemporary authors who nicely represent the diversity of poetic voices, Evory's poetic aesthetics are represented in approachable ways by poets working at the highest levels of their craft. The poems selected are engaging exemplars of what the author (and myself) find to be clear-minded voices interacting in a world that feels rounded and in the present, rather than the dusty classics that can sometimes be trotted out.
Evory's "Naming the Unnameable" is exactly the type of text that I'm excited about using in the classroom and feel that students would be open to it as well. There's lots of good teaching in this, and combined with her acute analysis and useful exercises, should be successful in engaging students to learn about the "mysteries" of how a poem comes to be and prepare them to attempt it themselves. The last chapters on publication and doing readings also lend a kind of useful optimism to newcomers as well as being an important reference for folks unsure of how to traverse the vast wilderness of literary magazines. A daunting task for many beginning writers. In short, this textbook is exactly the sort I've been looking for, and as the semester is still young, I find myself enthusiastic to apply some of it's lessons and perspectives.
Naming the Unnameable takes on the task of teaching poetry composition, which, like the book’s title, is a paradox since it is both important and impossible. In any art form, how do you provide instruction for someone to create what does not yet... read more
Naming the Unnameable takes on the task of teaching poetry composition, which, like the book’s title, is a paradox since it is both important and impossible. In any art form, how do you provide instruction for someone to create what does not yet exist – a new song, a new sculpture, a new poem? The conservatory dwells in this strange space, and the value of teaching a fine art is substantial. We can teach good practices, and we can teach what Twyla Tharp calls the “creative habit.” At the same time, no teacher can make a student come up with a good idea; they must do that on their own. The teacher, and any text that they use like this one, must teach methods and practices that make a new idea possible. For this reason, fine arts education differs from most every other discipline because those other disciplines have a body of knowledge that is learned and then interpreted. The fine arts student has everything and nothing to learn. The “everything” lies in good creative habits, artistic discipline, cultivation of imagination, honing technique, and mastering the tools of a discipline. The “nothing” is the art work not yet created because it is the student who must create it. Evory provides as good a template as one might need for a first text on writing poetry. Many such texts exist of course, and Evory does not necessarily break new ground on coaching students. But new ground is not the point. The point as far as I would say – and I think that Evory would agree – lies in providing students with directions on how to cultivate a creative mindset, how to employ the tools in the craft of poetry, and how to explore the infinite possibilities of poetry composition. The text will not surprise or inform anyone who is already involved in a creative enterprise. Yet as an introductory text, Naming the Unnameable provides the core of what is needed for young people interested in poetry.
The content is accurate. Evory presents in a way that has personality, but not bias.
Poetry of course never goes out of style. At the same time, it is constantly evolving. The text will need to reflect the evolution of the art form itself over time, but that is an inevitable consequence of the subject matter itself.
Naming the Unnameable is clearly written and fitting for an undergraduate introductory course to writing poetry.
The terminology is appropriate and employed with accuracy. Evory is a professional. She knows what she is talking about, and her authority is reliable.
In this place, and also in organization, I would recommend some editing for structure. More in the next item.
All of the necessary elements for a text on writing poetry are here. Evory does well in introducing a variety of case studies, explaining and exploring the necessary elements of poetry, and helping students to build good artistic disciplines. One of the areas where I would suggest some revision would be in the matter of overall organization. The text is by no means poorly organized. Yet I think that it would be more effective if it had divided itself into clearly defined segments and then spent some time in building cross-references between its exercises. I would suggest the following segments, based on what Evory has here: I. Good practices as a poet II. Poetic tools and techniques III. Next Steps: You've Written a Poem; What Now? -- or something like that. In Section I, I would put Evory's first two chapters, and possibly Chapter Eight (which deals with draft revisions). The text succeeds by laying out clear practices in the early chapters. Evory provides a good description of what are familiar methods: journaling, free writing, attentive encounters with the outside world, etc. These methods are the subject of chapter one. From there she moves to poetic composition specifically, and chapter two provides a sound description of what makes a poem successful, by doing a close reading of a single poem, Stephen Dunn’s “The Insistence of Beauty.” The reading is very close indeed, and if it errs, it does so on the side of too much analysis. Yet someone new to the business of poetry writing may appreciate the level of detail. Chapter Eight returns us to poetic practice and differs from its surrounding chapters because it specifically guides the poet as they hone a work toward a progressively more satisfying result. A large portion of the chapter is devoted to Evory describing her own editing and revision process of one of her poems, and I feel like this chapter could have been moved earlier in order to describe good artist practices. Or alternately it could have formed a circular return from looking at poetic devices to healthy practices of being a poet. Chapters Three through Seven address compositional elements to poetry: imagery, voice, architecture, acoustics, and form. Once again, Evory's approach is sound, and she leads the reader through a series of clear observations followed by appropriate exercises. At times the text has a level of explication that may be too much for the typical undergraduate. For example, the chapter on imagery spends time on distinguishing poetry from other modes of writing, which is good, but some of these distinctions could be handled in a sentence (e.g. poetry vs. a text message) rather than in one or more paragraphs. A second issue in these chapters, for me at least, is that topics are combined into a single chapter where they might be better served if separated. A minor quibble, but something as significant as tropes and figures really deserve their own chapter and are separate from “image.” That said, this middle section does cover all the necessary ground that an aspiring poet might need. In the process, Evory employs a nice range of poets as examples, and also brings in a number of relevant observations on poetry by established poets and literary scholars. At the same time, the book remains accessible and not academically tedious even as it introduces an appropriate level of rigor. Evory’s tone throughout is engaging, pleasant, and conversational, with a storyteller’s cadence that is almost extemporaneous and free-flowing. I would have preferred that some editing had been done to make things more concise, but her voice does well in making difficult material approachable. Chapter Seven concerns genre considerations, and it might settle well into this middle section on the tools and techniques of poetic craft. The final section concerns the life of poetry after composition: the chapter on revision mentioned above (Chapter Eight), and then a chapter each on publication (Nine) and the public reading/performance of poetry (Ten). I would have liked to see perhaps another chapter on audience engagements outside of the traditional publishing and poetry reading contexts. The 21st Century has abundant online resources for the sharing of poetry, which warrant some discussion, and the other significant path is consideration of intersections of poetry and music. The most successful poets in our day really throw us back to the days of the balladeers and troubadours; they are songwriters. Beyond that, some art forms really defy easy categorization in 19th- and 20th-century genre definitions. Hiphop and rap are generally considered "music" forms, but they are some of our most productive areas for poetry composition. The same can be said for the theater. Put those all together and you get Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, surely the most well-known work of poetry in the 21st century. Just a thought for another path to be mentioned in this final segment that deals with the crafting and sharing of one's poetry. What is here all works, but I feel like there is a next step here that could raise the text even more.
I had no issues here that were particular to this text. I would ask that the publisher introduce page numbers. I realize that they are artificial in an online interface, but it is difficult to go back to a section by scrolling the entirety of what would be 10 pages in print form. Pagination would also be very important for the teaching environment. In a classroom, it would be cumbersome to talk an 15 students toward a particular paragraph settled into the middle of a chapter.
No problems here.
Well done in this regard. This might also suggest some more possibilities, perhaps a chapter or portion of a chapter on the cultural role of poetry.
I greatly appreciate that Evory has put the time and effort into making a text like this, and making it openly accessible. At the time that I was reading it for this review, I was simultaneously preparing for a course titled "Finding Your Voice, Finding Your Vision," which is an interdisciplinary exploration of how one goes about cultivating creativity, inspiration, and expression through art-making. The course combines students studying a variety of disciplines (dance, theater, film, creative writing, visual art), and Evory's work helped to spark a few ideas in me as I worked on preparations and exercises. I have a lot of gratitude for Evory's perspective and her general enthusiasm for the creative experience. She clearly wants to cultivate a love of poetry-writing among students new to the venture, and that alone deserves praise.
One would have to think hard to come up with some foundation concerning the writing or reading of poetry that is not at least touched upon in this work, which feels thorough. The glossary is an excellent addendum students will likely take into... read more
One would have to think hard to come up with some foundation concerning the writing or reading of poetry that is not at least touched upon in this work, which feels thorough. The glossary is an excellent addendum students will likely take into more advanced poetry classes, and may, like other material in this book, be used in literature as opposed to writing based poetry classes.
Naturally, there is no “right way” to teach poetry, but this book is built around a strong strategy for introducing students in a straightforward and systematic way to the basics of poetry, while, at the same time, offering not just alternate pathways, but clear openings in which teachers may develop or implement their own or other ideas of the best way to teach poetry. In short, the text is strong at core and yet flexible enough to suggest a solid spine.
An ideal book for an Intro to Creative Writing class, or even a high school poetry class, this book’s ideas are exemplified primarily through contemporary poetry, though even some of it feels a bit dated as “contemporary” is a fairly broad term, especially in the digital age. The texts steps outside its genre to offer relevant and useful (and easy to update in future renditions) examples from popular culture as well.
Poetry can be intimidating, and this book offers a kind of demystification in which the process is broken down into manageable pieces, and the concepts behind each of those pieces are made clear. It’s chief attribute in this regard is a kind of step by step approach. Ideas are well rounded, often not just told to us, but shown, so that the key points any given chapter means to make come through.
It has a clear vision of audience throughout and offers up a beginners tool kit consistently. Developments are logical, from chapter to chapter, and each chapter offers its own strong structure; most are appropriately structured like the others, each presenting examples through which the reader will better understand the main points of the chapter, talking points for in class discussion, and writing prompts for in and out of class assignments
This book is nicely divided into 10 sections (chapters), and though each seems to flow out of the one that came before it and into the next, an instructor might easily offer them up in any order as she or he sees fit. I appreciate these chapters as blocks that might be moved around a bit to create sturdy structures.
The text as a whole tells a sort of lovely story about writing poetry, beginning with laying the foundation, moving into the rest of the work, and culminating in the idea of marketing finished pieces.
I found no issues.
Clean reading; well edited/proof read.
Though the canon is at the heart of the poems used for lessons in this book, many of them seem to have been chosen with the idea of cultural relevance in mind. The examples of work outside the canon might be broadened a bit.
I found Michelle Bonczek Evory’s Naming the Unnamable: an Approach to Poetry for New Generations a kind of ideal book for my own Introduction to Creative Writing classroom. Poetry is typically the most difficult unit, as student believed it is shrouded in the mystery of the abstract. This book acts as a kind of demystification tool. It is my intention to use this book next time I teach the course.
This book would make a great textbook for an introduction to poetry class. While it is not completely comprehensive, no poetry book is. It is up to an individual instructor to bring their own ideas to the table. This book provides a jumping off... read more
This book would make a great textbook for an introduction to poetry class. While it is not completely comprehensive, no poetry book is. It is up to an individual instructor to bring their own ideas to the table. This book provides a jumping off point for both student and instructor. It provides terms, examples and exercises that will help students do poetry, not just study it, over the course of a semester.
Poetry is a very subjective discipline. This text provides a basic, accurate representation of poetry.
The poems selected as examples are safe and of the modern canon. Because this is a beginners' poetry book, the example poems are useful for transmitting an idea. Every instructor is different and will probably bring their own favorite poems to the table for further discussion. The book does not necessarily challenge social norms or push against the establishment. The house of poetry is vast; this book is just a glimpse into the keyhole. References to contemporary films and tv shows could cause the book to become dated quickly.
The writing is clear and accessible. The author's voice is personable and reassuring to an audience that is assumed to be new to poetry and the creative process. It is a slightly defensive stance, but understandable. Many students need some convincing that poetry is a worthy endeavor of their time and Evory is a good advocate.
The organization of the book provides consistency. Chapters move from generalities to specifics. The poetic terminology is clear and a glossary is provided.
Each chapter is a logical unit. Within the chapters there are discussion points and exercises that students could do at home or during in-class writings and discussions. The text provides enough conversation fodder that no one should be left without something to talk about.
The organization of the book provides consistency. Chapters move from generalities to specifics. The poetic terminology is clear and a glossary is provided.
The link to Traci Brimhall goes to the wrong site. Other than that, the online version works well. The PDF version is straightforward.
I did not find any grammatical issues.
The text provides students with an entry into poetry. It covers the basics, but does not necessarily push students beyond normal uses of language. Poetry in translation and/or poets of diverse backgrounds are not adequately represented. The text is not deliberately insensitive or offensive, it is just limited.
I liked having the 9 Muses chapter open the book. It gives the reader background into the creative mindset and provides concrete exercises for students to try. For all its play, poetry is work and dedication. Nothing will happen if you just wait for the muse. The subsequent chapters have a tendency to lose focus on the poetry as they discuss generalities that are involved in all writing - using concrete language, active voice, etc. If this book were taught in an online setting I could see how this discussion would be useful. It is thorough and gives students a bridge on which they can cross from familiar uses of language to poetry. In a face-to-face class these generalities could be covered in conversation rather than in the book.
I could see this textbook being used in an Intro to Poetry class. Though the book provides a great, general foundation and offers a nice overview to poetry for those that are new to the medium, I found it a bit oversimplified for the student... read more
I could see this textbook being used in an Intro to Poetry class. Though the book provides a great, general foundation and offers a nice overview to poetry for those that are new to the medium, I found it a bit oversimplified for the student population I work with. There is a great glossary and many of the chapters provide nice overviews of different topics (I thought including the Publication chapter was fantastic), but it doesn't really go in-depth into any of the forms or concepts and I would want to supplement this with other texts or prompts.
Poetry is a subjective topic, to read/write, and also to teach, and the pedagogical approach of this book differs from my own. Still, I thought the definitions and presentation of core concepts were accurate and clear, and multiple vantage points are often given.
The concepts are presented in a straightforward and accessible way, so new updates could be easily integrated. The Publication chapter may need updates as time passes. I also thought that more contemporary and diverse examples of poems would help this be more accessible and relevant to younger students and diverse populations (the poems used as examples were often older and of the expected "canon," and this seemed like a missed opportunity to update the poetry curriculum to showcase more diversity and equity).
The prose is clear and easy to understand.
The book is consistent in its tone and organizational structure throughout.
The book is split up into 10 digestible chapters that could be assigned pretty easily, however, I feel like some of the important concepts (like voice and form) would come a bit late in the term, so personally I would probably end up jumping around a bit in terms of reading assignments.
The organization is very clear and adheres to its own logic, but as the ordering of content in poetry is subjective, I found myself desiring a slightly different organizational structure. The introductory chapters are great and generous, but I felt like this meant we get to some other important topics much later and spend less time on formal elements.
The interface is great, the online version in particular is very easy to use.
I didn't find any grammatical orders.
For a book that is aimed at "new generations" in poetry, I was disappointed by the lack of diversity in the poets mentioned, and contemporary examples. There is some diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, but not many younger or contemporary poets referenced, or poets from different backgrounds such as queer/trans writers.
This book is clear and straight-forward. It is a little simplistic for the students I teach. It's index and glossary are good. However, is a very limited number of poems in the book. As a result, there is not alot of in-dept analysis. I do... read more
This book is clear and straight-forward. It is a little simplistic for the students I teach. It's index and glossary are good. However, is a very limited number of poems in the book. As a result, there is not alot of in-dept analysis. I do like the chapter on "close-reading." It is a nice introduction to this skill.
The book is accurate.
The book introduces very basic students to the writing of poetry. It would be good for high school students, with additional sources for reading poems.
The book is jargon-free, and the index nicely defines necessary words.
The book is aimed at the same audience throughout.
The text's subsections and easy to navigate.
The organization is clear and systematic.
I did not see any navigational problems.
It was free of grammatical errors.
The book certainly is not offensive, but there is not equal representation of poets of color.
This text is very welcoming to the beginning poetry student. I might show it to me bright middle school student. It is too basic for most college level courses.
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,... 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.
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... 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.
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... 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.