For each chapter in the book, A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (including the introduction and conclusion), can someone please help me finding one sentence that best captures what the chapter is saying. Then explain why you chose each sentence.
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Mary Oliver introduces her handbook by declaring that although poets are born, there are some things that can be taught. "It is about matters of craft, primarily." Oliver states her purpose.
- Chapter One - "Getting Ready"
"But the desire to make a poem, and the world's willingness to receive it--indeed, the world's need of it--never pass."
Oliver explains that if Romeo had not appeared in Juliet's garden no poetry would have been made. Therefore, one must make regular appointments with his/her Muse and be serious about writing poetry. Finding a spot where one goes at a certain time is important to inspiration.
- Chapter Two - "Reading Poems"
"To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like the fire through the mountains."
Oliver herself writes a poetic line here which so aptly captures all her meaning. This is a thematic sentence: One needs to read and consume the stuff of poets from every age "widely and deeply." For, the subjects of poems do not change; only style and historical settings vary. In this sentence, Oliver expresses the consumption of poetry that is requisite so that the aspiring poet will learn what so many other hearts have felt.
- Chapter Three - "Imitation"
"Imitating such poems is an excellent way to realize that they are not similar at all, but contain differences that are constant, subtle, intense, and radiantly interesting."
Here again is a sentence at the crux of the message of a chapter. At first, the aspiring poet must model him/herself after others in order to learn the skills of poetry since every poem contains within itself language that differs significantly from conversational language. Oliver encourages the student of poetry to read both poems from the past that demonstrate the use of metrics as well as poems of the present.
- Chapter Four - "Sounds"
"Now we see that words have not only a definition and possibly a connotation, but also the felt quality of their own kind of sound."
Once again, this sentence strikes at the core of the purpose of the chapter: an explication of the sound qualities of different letters of the alphabet and how the poet employs them. For instance, certain letters are aspirates, others liquids, still others are mutes.
- Chapter Five - "More Devices of Sound"
"A poem on the page speaks to the listening mind."
Oliver explains that language is a living "vibrant material"; thus, words all work in conjunction with one another to create meaning as they lend pace, tone, and sound.
- Chapter Six - "The Line"
"(How important this choice of line length is!) It's effect upon the reader is simple, reliable, and inescapable."
This is a rather technical chapter as it explains and demonstrates with poems written by Robert Frost and Ezra Pound the importance of line length with its rhythm and impact. For instance, she explains how a long line has "a greater than human power."
- Chapter Seven - "Some Given Forms"
"Other things matter, too, including the overall length of the poem, its tone (elevated or casual, for example), the extent to which imagery is used, the subject itself."
This sentence is another thematic statement of what will follow as Oliver explicates further. She dissects the sonnet form, the various uses of the stanza form, syllabic verse, etc. using more poems as examples of different poetic techniques.
- Chapter Eight - Verse That is Free"
"Discussing free verse is like talking about an iceberg, a shining object that is mostly underwater."
This poetic sentence of Oliver with its demonstrative simile describes the difficulty of discussing free verse as a form such as those explicated in Chapter Seven. Because free verse is such a relatively new form and because there are so many variations, it is difficult to assign any specificity to techniques. Nevertheless, there are some techniques that are common to all free verse, and Oliver discusses them in this chapter.
- Chapter Nine - "Diction, Tone, and Voice"
"(1) The beginning writer should learn to construct the poem simply, freshly, and clearly, and then(2) the beginning writer will no longer be a beginning writer and can go on to more complicated, highly organized, and difficult work."
This is a concluding sentence that underscores the importance of the poetic techniques which Oliver has explicated in this chapter.
- Chapter Ten - "Imagery"
"No one would need to think without the initial profusion of perceptual experience."
This sentence summarizes the purpose of the chapter in its explication of figurative language, metaphor, personification, allusion, and imagery.
- Chapter Eleven - "Revision"
"What matters is that you consider what you have on the page as an unfinished piece of work that now requires your next conscious and patient appraisal."
Here Oliver stresses the importance of revising and rewriting--even discarding a poem because sometimes some poems are "unfixable."
- Chapter Twelve - "Workshops and Solitude"
"With everyone using an understandable language, and with a number of persons scrutinizing the work, the workshop members can learn a great deal about their general aptitude and specific writing skills--can learn much more than even the most diligent writer can ascertain in the same amount of time while working alone."
This sentence presents the rationale for Oliver's presentation on workshops.
"Especially when writers are just starting out, the emphasis should be upon not only what they write, but equally upon the process."
Like any writing, practice and the development of skills is requisite. This sentence concludes all that Oliver has taught in her handbook. She quotes the great French writer, author of Madame Bovary,
Talent is a long patience and originality an effort of will and of intense observation.
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