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A Poetry Critic Asks: Why Bother?

David Orr is the poetry columnist for <em>The New York Times Book Review</em>. <em></em><em></em>
David Orr is the poetry columnist for <em>The New York Times Book Review</em>. <em></em><em></em>

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Well ... maybe not. It seems a lot of readers these days are leaving poetry on the shelf. It's too obscure, it's too challenging, and it's just not enjoyable.

David Orr is the poetry critic for The New York Times, and he's on a mission to bring readers back to this under-appreciated art form. His new book is called Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry. It's a slender little volume divided into six chapters, each demystifying an aspect of poetry.

Orr tells Weekend All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer that he wanted to take a broad approach, rather than recommending specific poems.

"I intentionally didn't set the book up as an exploration of individual poets," he says. "What I hoped to do instead was sort of outline these themes, and then as readers come to different poets that they like, the reader would feel inspired to go and look the poets up."

The final chapter of Orr's book asks what might be the most important question: Why bother? Why read poetry at all?

And Orr has a rather surprising answer: "I don't know that people ought to bother. I think that poetry is one of those choices you make in life that's ... it's not really susceptible to reasoning or arguments."

Orr says he reads poetry because it helps him negotiate the world around him and understand his own feelings about that world.

"And also, just because it entertains me," he adds. "I think a better way to approach the question 'why bother?' is not to answer it — but rather just to say that if you do bother, it can be worthwhile."

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