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Reviews of Beautiful & Pointless

“Elegant, infinitely sensible approaches to poems and poetry-making by a brilliant poet and critic.”

Chicago Tribune’s Best Books of 2011


“We are not won to poetry by arguments for it, says Orr, but by being hooked on it. In his own case, a poem called ‘Water,’ by Philip Larkin, did the magic.  After all, he points out, ‘small unnecessary devotions’ are what constitute a life.”

—James Torrens, America Magazine


“Individual chapters bear titles such as ‘The Personal,’ ‘The Political,’ ‘Form,’ ‘Ambition,’ but shouldn’t be regarded as clearly fenced-off subjects since all the chapters are held together by Orr’s strong, companionable voice. That voice is interested not in laying down the law, but rather in arguing (often with himself) a case for the life to be found in contemporary verse … Orr comes across as an engaged, discriminating reader-critic concerned with examining rather than selling us a product.”

—W.H. Pritchard, Commonweal Magazine


“If reading a guidebook to contemporary poetry appeals to you about as much as diving into a history of space heaters in this triple-digit summer, David Orr, poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review, knows how to turn on the AC.”

—Helen Mallon, The Philadelphia Inquirer


“By making questions like these available to his readers, Orr ensures the lovability of his criticism. By asking them, rather than jumping to pedantic conclusions, we can show ourselves to be loving readers.”

—Joel Brouwer, Poetry Foundation


“As anyone who has committed a significant amount of time and effort to poetry in his or her lifetime can attest, the endeavor is foremost simply a labor of love, and Orr’s uncomplicated summary clearly expresses this principal motivation in a distinct and comprehensible manner readers and writers of poetry ought to appreciate.”

—Edward Byrne, Valparaiso Poetry Review


“[O]ne of the more influential voices on poetry currently inhabiting this planet … He has become an unofficial if broadly recognized spokesman for poetry itself … [A]s Orr says in his impossible book, if you write something interesting, if you write something difficult to forget, then it is enough. ”

—Morgan Meis, The Smart Set


“[Orr] uses concepts that matter in the world of poetry—the personal, the political, ambition, and form—and exhibits abundant humor, charm, and insight. How can one not admire someone who writes, “…each chapter will be idiosyncratic and unfair”? …Highly recommended for readers who enjoy literature or poetry or who just want to learn more about them.”

—Susan L. Peters, Library Journal


“At its best, as Wallace Stevens says, poetry should “resist the intelligence/ Almost successfully,” meaning it shouldn’t quite make sense, thereby expanding the reader’s—and poet’s—notion of sense a bit.  But it takes an intrepid navigator like Orr—who isn’t afraid to get on poets’ nerves or urge readers out of their comfort zones—to get the exploration going.”

—Craig Morgan Teicher, Slate


“Susan Sontag once wrote an essay advocating ‘an erotics of art,’ and that’s the main point of Orr’s passionate, nimble little book: that poetry is for lovers, not cryptologists.”

—David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review


“This debut from New York Times Book Review poetry columnist Orr is equal parts friendly invitation for the uninitiated into the joys and possibilities of reading poetry and opinionated cultural critique of the contemporary American poetry scene … [T]he book covers a heck of a lot without getting lost in the esoteric…”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review & Pick of the Week)


“David Orr knows how to get that rare thing for poetry: public attention.”

—Daniel D’Addario, “Spring Arts Preview: Top Ten Books” at The New York Observer


“The reader accompanies Orr as he rambles amusingly and engagingly around today’s poetry culture, looking for consensus as to, say, what a poem means.”

—Michael Coffey, Publishers Weekly


“David Orr is an authentic iconoclast. His criticism is exuberant and original. Dr. Johnson, my critical hero, urged us to clear our mind of cant. Orr has cleared his. He will enhance the perception of his readers. And he wins my heart by his love for Edward Lear.”

—Harold Bloom


“As his title suggests, David Orr is no starry-eyed cheerleader for contemporary poetry; Orr’s a critic, and a good one, engaged in a passionate and at times contentious dialogue with both the literary world and the culture at large. Beautiful & Pointless is a clear-eyed, opinionated, and idiosyncratic guide to a vibrant but endangered art form, essential reading for anyone who loves poetry, and also for those of us who mostly just admire it from afar.”

—Tom Perrotta


“Amidst the bilge, posturing and chicanery emanating from that parallel universe, the institutional world of foundations, academies, societies, endowments, programs, committees and panels; along with the attendant pieties, bogus reputations and notions of decorum that nowadays obtain in American poetry, strides David Orr and, with a bracing ahem, reminds us that poetry is an ancient and living art, a robust American art, and not a commodity or vehicle for self-expression, social betterment, or career enhancement. Mr. Orr argues his case with passion, eloquence, erudition and good sense —and, as is his custom, not a little moxy.”

—August Kleinzahler

Beautiful & Pointless

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