Matthew Zapruder is the author of "Why Poetry."

Former New York Times Magazine poetry editor Matthew Zapruder thinks that far too often, schools teach students to be wary of poetry, to stress over finding a deeper, hidden meaning to the words. In “Why Poetry,” Zapruder lays out what he thinks is a better way to approach a poem, to focus on the literal meaning and visceral experience of the words. Zapruder joins us to discuss his book, his own verse and how poetry makes sense of the human experience and restores our humanity.

Matthew Zapruder, poet and author, “Why Poetry”; associate professor, St Mary’s College of California

‘Why Poetry’: A Manifesto for Reading and Enjoying the Art 31 August,2017Michael Krasny

  • Noelle

    I agree the way poetry is taught for the most part is lacking. And for the more scientific/engineering type of students it’s even harder for them to wrap their heads around poetry.

    • Ehkzu

      …in part because poetry tends to written about feelings. But unbeknownst to many English majors, there are other subjects. Back in the day poets like Donne and Blake knew this. The things that excite engineers and scientists are fine subjects for poetry, but the resulting poetry would befuddle many currrent poetry buffs.

      Poetry can be about anything that inspires us.

  • Ehkzu

    Nearly all Americans love poetry…when it’s song lyrics. Not all of which are drivel. Honest.

    Meanwhile the world of poetry shuts out the tech people by acting as if interpersonal feelings are the only valid subject for poetry. I’d love to see a poem about, say, the discovery of the Higgs boson or the optical drive…or the first men landing on the Moon. Most of the people I know would understand that, while the literati would dismiss it, just as they dismiss science fiction, which is often about big ideas and not just “she loves me, she loves me not.”

    Poetry can be about anything that inspires people.

  • Shawn Lahr

    One of my favorite poetry poems:

    “Silent Letter”

    It’s what you don’t hear
    that says struggle
    as in wrath and wrack
    and wrong and wrench and wrangle.
    The noiseless wriggle
    of a hooked worm
    might be a shiver of pleasure
    not a slow writhing
    on a scythe from nowhere.
    So too the seeming leisure
    of a girl alone in her blue
    bedroom late at night
    who stares at the bitten
    end of her pen
    and wonders how to write
    so that what she writes
    stays written.

    –Katha Pollitt

  • Kathleen Paylor

    I was at Mt Holyoke at the same time studying with Brodsky. What your guest neglected to mention is the reason the Brodsky had us memorize poems. It was because in Soviet Russia everything would be confiscated that was written and so the only way to keep something was to have it inside of you. That has helped give new understanding to the reason we memorize things of value.

  • Tanu Wakefield

    I’m the poet laureate of Belmont, California and one thing we on a monthly basis is to invite people to come to the Belmont Library and read poems aloud. We spend an hour or two just reading and listening to poems emerge from our bodies. I think it’s been a great way to expose people to the physical pleasures of a poem. Thank you for having this discussion on forum!

  • Robert Thomas

    “I like to feel that all poetry is not between the covers of poetry books, that much of it is written in great enterprises of engineering and flying, that into mighty utility man has poured and is pouring his dreams, his emotions, his philosophy. This materializing of his genius is sometimes inchoate and monstrous, but even then sublime in its extravagance and courage. Who can deny that the Queensborough Bridge is the work of a creative artist?”

    “I Go Adventuring”
    Helen Keller
    Midstream, 1929

  • Noelle

    I just finished reading Sherman Alexie’s memoir… about half of the chapters are poems and I really liked the interspersing of prose and poetry in his engaging and honest book.

  • TimDoyle

    In the summer night. Throwing my naked body to the wind naked in nature. Do animals cover their bodies with pretentious concoctions? Why should I ? Body. Objectification. 20th Century man. Depression.

  • Noelle

    Do you know about the poetry show on KPFA on Wednesdays, hosted by Jack Foley? Very good and interesting poets and poems on it.

  • MxM

    I’m from El Paso and find it interesting that your guest read a poem inspired in our airport bar. With all of the beautiful images in this desert town, sunsets, desert settings, etc. he uses the setting where I have also found poetical inspiration. My fav author is, who may be considered a poet, is the one who wrote, ‘pull tab to open’. Thanks Mike for the subject. I think I’ll pick up Bukoski. Cheers!

  • Robert Thomas

    “… genres have become colluded …”


    “Polluted”? Maybe colluded is better.

  • nadia wit

    My great great grandfather wrote beautiful poetry about his granddaughter (my grandmother) when she was born and as she grew up. As I read his 100 year old pros today, I let the history, love, the landscape of The US, wash over me. Poetry can be an honest history education. When we get individual’s perspectives of time and events and also the depths of emotion that we can connect 100 plus years later.

  • Robert Thomas

    Why do poets reading their own work these days continue to indulge in the tedious “poetry cadence”, overemphasizing meter?

    We have a trove of Auden reading his own work. He easily managed to avoid sounding like a fake Greek bard reciting odes to actors playing Roman potentates reclining on couches in 1950s MGM Sword and Sandal epics.


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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