Don’t Read Poetry
(A Book about How to Read Poems)

by Stephanie Burt
Critical Essays, 307 pages
Price: $30.00
ISBNs: 978-0-465-09450-9; 978-0-465-09451-6 (eBook)
Publisher: Basic Books
To Order:


Stephanie Burt’s book of critical essays opens with a series of compelling questions:
Why don’t more of us read more poems? Why do some people care so much about poems
that baffle the rest of us? Why do some people often loathe poems others like? Are poems
from five hundred years ago really the same things—can they work on us in the same
ways—as poems by living authors now? There are more. Burt spends the next 300 pages
responding to such foundational questions from 6 perspectives: “Feelings,” “Characters,”
“Forms,” “Difficulty,” “Wisdom,” and “Community.” Burt, Professor of English at
Harvard, is acclaimed both as a poet and literary critic. Both qualities are evident in
Don’t Read Poetry.


Don’t Read Poetry is for readers hunting sharp, nimble thinking about culture,
comprehension, and poems. Whether discussing an ancestral Hawaiian language, a
canonical poet like Langston Hughes, or contemporary poets like Rodrigo Toscano and
Jennifer Chang, Stephanie Burt manages to illuminate ‘the difficult process of turning
paired marks into words.’ Don’t read poetry, she suggests, read poems. This is a book for
anyone who reads with curiosity, care, and imagination.”
—Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.

“For the past fifty years, poetry critics have battled over what poetry is, which poets
mattered, and which didn’t. Stephanie Burt says they had it wrong. Don’t read poetry,
this dedicated pluralist tells us, if by poetry you mean one thing. If, however, you want to
read poems and discover the manifold ways they can be—and help readers to be—good
(for Burt’s aesthetic vision is ultimately ethical), read this lucid, informed, and deeply
humane book.”
—Langdon Hammer, author of James Merrill: Life and Art.


Stephanie Burt is a professor of English at Harvard University, coeditor of poetry at the
Nation, and the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim fellowship for poetry. Her work appears
regularly in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, the London Review of
and other journals. She lives in Massachusetts.


Autobiographia Literaria
by Frank O’Hara

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

Editor’s note: This work is under copyright by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf
Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
All rights reserved.

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