The ode less travelled : unlocking the poet within

by Stephen Fry

Hardcover, 2006




New York : Gotham Books, 2006 printing.


Stephen Fry believes that if you can speak and read English you can write poetry. But it is no fun if you don't know where to start or have been led to believe that Anything Goes.Stephen, who has long written poems, and indeed has written long poems, for his own private pleasure, invites you to discover the incomparable delights of metre, rhyme and verse forms.Whether you want to write a Petrarchan sonnet for your lover's birthday, an epithalamion for your sister's wedding or a villanelle excoriating the government's housing policy, THE ODE LESS TRAVELLED will give you the tools and the confidence to do so.Brimful of enjoyable exercises, witty insights and simple step-by-step advice, THE ODE LESS TRAVELLED guides the reader towards mastery and confidence in the Mother of the Arts.… (more)

Media reviews

“The Ode Less Travelled” is at once idiosyncratic and thoroughly traditional — it’s filled with quips, quirks and various Fry-isms (sestinas are “a bitch to explain but a joy to make”), yet still manages to be a smart, comprehensive guide to prosody. It’s organized in three main
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sections — meter, rhyme and form, with exercises suggested for each — and a smaller concluding section in which Fry gives some general thoughts about contemporary British poetry. It also has a practical, good-natured glossary ... the book is ideal for anyone who’s interested in learning more about poetic forms ... Fry’s goal is to demystify the art without deadening it.
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Mr. Fry sticks to structure, beginning with metrical feet like iambs and dactyls, then progressing through rhyme schemes and various poetical forms, from haiku to ballads to villanelles.... Writing exercises, 20 in all, are sprinkled throughout, as are commands to keep reading aloud.... Mr. Fry
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truly shines when ardently defending and explicating the virtues of form.
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He's come to read the metre ... It is, mostly, intelligent and informative, a worthy enterprise well executed.
In this delightfully erudite, charming and soundly pedagogical guide to poetic form ... Fry leads the reader through a series of lessons on meter, rhythm, rhyme and stanza length and reveals the structural logic of every imaginable poetic form ... Fry has created an invaluable and highly enjoyable
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reference book on poetic form, which deserves to achieve widespread academic adoption.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member dmtmusic
A must for any fan of Stephen Fry. I wish I’d had this book while learning poetry in school – it’s clear, in-depth enough to be taken seriously yet not so much as to be pedestrian, and entertaining. Not like the typical boring texts I was forced to slog through. Writing this was obviously a
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labor of love: as I read, I could hear Fry’s voice – no mean feat for a writer. I’ll admit that I didn’t take the time to do all of the Exercises, though I’m sure I will when I’ve bought my own copy (I borrowed it from the library). It’s definitely a book that I want to own and read again.
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LibraryThing member subbobmail
I have been on a Stephen Fry binge: watching his quiz show, enjoying his sketch comedy, reading his blog entries (or "blessays" as he calls them), and learning from his documentary on bipolar disorder (from which he suffers). Nothing better than a witty British polymath, I say.

Therefore it follows
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that I would enjoy his book The Ode Less Travelled, in which Fry confessed a "dark and dreadful secret" -- he writes verse. The book is an amusing and user-friendly guide to how poetry works and what form it takes. It is also a polemic in favor of form and a screed against formless modern poetry. He really hates the latter, calling it "emotional masturbation" and "arse-water" and other colorful things. I happen to agree with him, so I find all this very amusing.

I also found The Ode Less Travelled a fine handbook, useful for reminding myself why poetry is worth reading and writing. I used to engage in both pursuits a lot more often. Fry's exuberance and example may lead me back to them.
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LibraryThing member pouleroulante
at last! a layman's guide!
if you dont do the exercises at the end of each chapter Stephen Fry will call by and slap you with a wet tram ticket.
LibraryThing member tedmahsun
Makes you want to jump straight into poesy. Worth a reread and more! Later chapters get a bit tougher to understand though.
LibraryThing member ZenPatrice
Very detailed look at appreciating the cadence of English poetry.
LibraryThing member debnance
Fry cleverly drags out the reading of this book by forcing the reader to take a vow to read all the poems aloud and to do all the exercises in the book. I did well until I came to the next-to-last chapter of the book, a chapter on forms. I admit it: I didn't do any of the exercises on writing
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pantoums and ballads and haiku. I fully intend to go back and do these at my leisure, but I felt a strong need to go ahead and finish the blooming book. It does count, right? I don't think we have any requirements about adhering to silly vows taken to a book, do we?
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LibraryThing member engywook
A friend bought me Stephen Fry's guide when I decided to become more serious about writing poetry; it proved to be an excellent gift. Fry writes lucidly about the different aspects of prosody -- form, meter and rhyme -- and provides exercises to help the reader practice and gain confidence. The
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book proceeds at a reasonable pace, taking time to firmly establish concepts before moving on. I have since bought several books listed under "Additional Reading" and have quite enjoyed them.

"The Ode Less Travelled" served as an excellent springboard for my adventures in poetry. In addition to giving me a basis in writing formal poetry, it has helped to change the way I interact with and read poetry. By sensitizing my ear to form and meter, it has elevated these aspects to a level of conscious awareness which has added a new dimension to my appreciation of poetry. I was also quite pleased with the inclusion of "exotic" forms (such as the pantoum) and have since tried my hand at writing some of these more structured forms.

I have to admit, some of the exercises took me quite a while (often because I didn't feel like doing them but refused to continue reading until I had, which led to me laying aside the book for long periods). If you're not a fan of Stephen Fry, you may find his quirky humour and the casual tone unappealing; being fond of Fry's work in general, I found the style delightful.

"Ode" is a wonderfully fun, light introduction to the rich world of poetry, well suited for either an aspiring poet or an avid consumer.
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LibraryThing member sloopjonb
Yes, just shut up being a smartarse for one minute, please, Stephen. You have some useful information to impart to us.
LibraryThing member JenneB
This was actually very interesting, but unless you're actually going to write poetry, there's not much point in just reading it through for pleasure.
If I was at a point in my life where I needed things to occupy my time, this would be a great course in how to write (traditional) poetry, but I have
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way too many other things I'd rather be doing right now, frankly.
Still, his examples are hilarious as you might expect from Fry.
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LibraryThing member David.Cooper
I love Stephen Fry and this book is a wonderful introduction to learning poetry. He actually manages to make iambic pentameter interesting!
LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
I have always loved literature, and books so, one of my favourite subjects, in those long off days of my schooling, was English. My heart would jump for joy at each new author, or technique that I encountered: well, all but one - POETRY. I could read and enjoy the works of poets but, when asked to
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write same, I knew that my efforts were so far from those of the maestros, that mine didn't register on the most sensitive scale.

English masters (and yes, in my day, they were all masters!) would simply issue the instruction to turn out this miraculous form of wordage: the technique was supposed to shoot from the ether and hit the student between the eyes. I must have ducked when it came my way, for I never learned the methods, the building blocks of poetry writing - and my ignorance lasted MANY years. Imagine, then, my delight when I stumbled upon a copy of this book. It explains all those little secrets which, for reasons best known to themselves, my English masters were reluctant to vouchsafe: even better; Stephen Fry puts the information across, in the way only he can, both knowledgeable, but also light-hearted. I am neither faced with a grim task master driving me through mysteries in which I am in danger of drowning, or by some joker more intent on earning his laughs than in lifting one of my many veils of ignorance.

I have to admit, that I am breaking the habits of a lifetime; I am reviewing this book before I have finished it. Why? Because I shall be reading, re-reading and performing the exercises therein for many a month. Whilst I hope that the results of this effort will mean that the guardians of our literary heritage will see that Shakespeare, Milton, Byron et al need to step aside for the new all conquering literary hero, I shall still be happy, in the unlikely event, that I produce nothing greater than the odd line of doggerel! To know how a poem functions, not only allows one to produce poetry, but enhances one's appreciation of the works of others.

A big, BIG thank you to Stephen Fry for this book - if you haven't got a copy, what are you waiting for? Go out and buy one, NOW!!!
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LibraryThing member martensgirl
A very witty introduction to what could have been a very dry topic. Fry takes us through the various types of poems and gets very, very technical. At no point did it feel forced, tedious or like an English class.
LibraryThing member Brumby18
Ode too much for me -- but I can see the potential
LibraryThing member jen.e.moore
Have you ever tried to write poetry? It's not as easy as it looks - even free blank verse, in most hands, sounds silly, while a good poet can shake you to your core. Nevertheless, I keep trying to write poetry, hoping that someday I'll accidentally manage something that's actually good. I picked up
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The Ode Less Travelled to see if there's anything useful I've been missing, and wow, have I been missing a lot.

Stephen Fry isn't a poet - he's an actor, comedian, and occasional novelist - but he writes poetry for fun, and thinks other people should try it, too. In aid of this, he explains poetical metre (everything's spelled in British English in this book, although Fry also gives the Americanisms), rhyme, form, and criticism, along with giving extremely useful and interesting exercises for you to try. As he says, you probably won't become an award-winning poet just by reading this book, but you will be able to amuse yourself with a creative hobby, much like sketching with words. And if all you're interested in is understanding poetry a little better, this would also be a useful read, as it's much more entertaining than any "Introduction to Poetry" I've ever read before.
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LibraryThing member Razinha
I try to get outside my comfort zone sometimes and I got this a couple of years ago to do just that but didn't get too far. I was told several people...that I had to read it out loud. languished for a while. Then I found out that Stephen Fry read it himself for an audiobook. I'll
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listen to lecture series, but audiobooks are not my thing.

Until this one. I read along with Mr. Fry. I loved his voice and he really made his words come alive. For a book on poetry, his prose was better than any poem I have ever read. And he gets into such technicalities! "iamb, the trochee, the pyrrhic, and the spondee [...] anapest and the dactyl, the molossus, the tribach, the amphibrach and the amphimacer"...sounds like a biology lesson.

He doesn't spend much time on "free verse", which is what I really need explained to me - rhymeless, meterless words are...well...not poems. But that's my failing.

I learned a lot (apart from the entire subject, "ullage" is not a word I encounter in casual reading!) Hearing him read while I read along was eminently helpful. I don't intend to write anything as he suggests, beyond my sometimes witty and sometimes just groaning limericks, and I don't know how much I'll read, but I do think I'll return to this again.
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LibraryThing member therebelprince
On rereading this book, I'm upgrading it to 5 stars. (Although I should note I'm a pathetic Stephen Fry acolyte, so you should hold my judgment to be as something written on water.)

Fry carefully takes the reader through essentially all the key concepts to understand poetry. Metre, looking at poetic
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feet, enjambment, caesura, sprung rhythm and syllabic poetry among others; Rhyme, exploring types of rhyme including feminine, triple, and rich; Form, in which he interrogates everything from the Pindaric ode to the Villanelle, from the Limerick to the Tanka; and Diction, a brief epilogue on the art of poetry in the 21st century. It is all written in his distinctive style, passionately erudite one second, cheeky the next.

Along the way, Fry includes 20 exercises designed to help the novice poet experiment with forms and styles, while also including plenty of excerpts from poetry dating back to the ancients and forward to the present - as well as his own (deliberately low-key) efforts. For the most part, Fry avoids breathtakingly contemporary styles and blank verse. He notes that these styles are just as important and powerful, but that any artist must begin with an understanding of the basics and the existing work that has been built up over millennia before "breaking free of the pan and doing their own thing", as Elaine Benes would put it.

For some budding poets, this will be rich material. For others, you may not connect with Fry's tone or his focus on the "nuts and bolts" of writing. (I, like Fry, would caution you to reconsider your beliefs!)

Speaking for myself, I don't have any intention of writing poetry, and so I did not do the exercises. For me, the joy of this book was simply in revisiting the breadth of poetic styles in the hands of a master storyteller and armchair academic. With helpful charts, tables, and practical examples along the way, The Ode Less Travelled shines for those of us who still keep bookshelves of reference books. The final 22 pages are a glossary of poetic terms from abecedarian to zeugma (well, there's a couple of joke entries after the latter, but that's for you to enjoy), which will prove equally useful.
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