Reading The Secret Life of Poems

I grabbed The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin from the library and read the blurb on the back and the first page. It’s a poetry primer with some of the “most celebrated poems in the English language” and starts with a page about metrical feet and consonants.

Unfortunately that first page is the best bit of the book.

There is no introduction so you don’t get any sort of background to Paulin’s reading of the poems included. The choice of poems is bizarre and uneven, seeming to have no through line.

More worryingly the choice of poems includes only two women (Dickinson and Rossetti). Sylvia Plath is also only mentioned by her relationship with Hughes and his commentary on her work.

Some of the points were very interesting, Paulin indicates word choice and repetition that we may have missed on a casual read through and sometimes gives background to the poem or poet. My main problem, however, was the tiring and pretentious commentary. The readings were generally far too close for a primer on poetry. Most of the comments were exactly the sort of thing that puts people off reading poetry. There is no sense of fun or personal connection to the poems included, which for me should be the first thing to think about.


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