Kevin Saving on
Stephen Fry: The Ode Less Travelled, Hutchinson, London, 2005
Despite its truly awful titular pun, The Ode Less Travelled turns out to be a valuable reference book, an accessible self-help guide to the crafting of poetry and a persuasive piece of literary propaganda.
Stephen Fry, well-known as actor, raconteur and 'television personality', does a thorough job in explaining the basics of 'Metre', 'Form', 'Rhyme' and 'Diction' (each of which has a chapter devoted to it). He also displays some genuine – though whimsical - talent himself, with a series of verses written as exemplars of various poetic forms - most notably his 'Kitchen Villanelle'.
Fry appears to believe that poetry - like any other art-form- is regulated by a number of defined accordances, parameters, 'rules' (if you like). It is first necessary to have a working knowledge of these before one can work outside
of them effectively - if one so chooses. Music, for example, is governed by 'rules' of intonation, painting by those of perspective. Although not overtly stated, the suspicion remains that this author has little time for Free Verse.
What reaction, if any, these opinions will provoke in the editors of the 'major' poetry journals (in terms of circulation, dwarfed - even en masse - by the likes of Golfing Weekly), or on the burgeoning Faculty Boards of degree-level 'creative writing' courses, remains to be seen. For this reviewer at least, anything which serves to promote an alternative to the prosey, verbose and anecdotal fare which currently constitutes poetric orthodoxy, is to be applauded.
Whilst at £10.99 (for 357 pages) this hardback cannot be called 'cheap', Fry has provided a stimulating and informative pocket-sized classic. Although the prose style can grate in its tendency towards a rather self-conscious jokiness, the effect is (usually) to leaven what otherwise might be a dry discourse on technique. I particularly enjoyed the large Glossary at the back of the book, which serves to decode a formidable - and to the lay-person daunting - array of technical jargon/literary cant.
Kevin Saving © 2007