From the widely acclaimed poet, novelist, critic, and scholar, a lucid and edifying exploration of the building blocks of poetry and how they've been used over the centuries to assemble the most imperishable poems • “Anyone wanting to learn how to remodel, restore, or build a poem from the foundation up, will find this room-by-room guide on the architecture of poetry a warm companion.” —Tomás Q. Morín, author of Machete
We treasure our greatest poetry, Brad Leithauser reminds us in these pages, "not for its what but its how." In chapters on everything from iambic pentameter to how stanzas are put together to "rhyme and the way we really talk," Leithauser takes a deep dive into that how—the very architecture of poetry. He explains how meter and rhyme work in fruitful opposition ("Meter is prospective; rhyme is retrospective"); how the weirdnesses of spelling in English are a boon to the poet; why an off rhyme will often succeed where a perfect rhyme would not; why Shakespeare and Frost can sound so similar, despite the centuries separating them. And Leithauser is just as likely to invoke Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, or Boz Scaggs as he is Chaucer or Milton, Bishop or Swenson, providing enlightening play-by-plays of their memorable lines.
Hereis both an indispensable learning tool and a delightful journey into the art of the poem—a chance for new poets and readers of poetry to grasp the fundamentals, and for experienced poets and readers to rediscover excellent works in all their fascinating detail.
Portions of this book have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.
About the Author
BRAD LEITHAUSER is the author, most recently, of The Promise of Elsewhere, and the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship. This is his eighteenth book. He is a professor in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and divides his time between Baltimore and Amherst, Massachusetts.
“Seldom has a guidebook to prosody ever been so sprightly, so much fun to read, with deeply knowledgeable insights gingered throughout with low-keyed humor . . . Leithauser’s witty Rhyme’s Rooms: The Architecture of Poetry blueprints the struts and girders, the iron armature, needed to create even the airiest lyric. [It] is a book of revelations.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“Readers ready to discover the power of poetry need look no further . . . Leithauser brilliantly elucidates poetry for ‘the reader who loves words and literature, but maybe feels some trepidation . . . on confronting a poem on a page’ . . . [He] facilitates a deep appreciation of the craft without slipping into academic jargon, and his own prose is lyrical . . . His writing is a joy to read, as is his message that poetry can benefit one’s mind—the first message of all poems, he writes, is to ‘slow down.’” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A warm, well-considered celebration of a rich literary form. . . [Leithauser] aims his thoughtful overview of prosody at general readers who may feel trepidation when encountering a poem . . . Unlike scholarly books that focus mostly on what a poem says, Leithauser is equally concerned with how a poem conveys meaning: the building blocks that make for its particular architecture.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Brad Leithauser brings élan and a lifetime of learning to his exploration of poetic form. Alert to the ways poetry is at once a traditional and a revolutionary art, Rhyme’s Rooms invites us to slow down and to observe the powerful interplay among a poem’s technical, musical, emotional, and intellectual elements. The book’s probing chapters on meter, stanza, and rhyme, its succinct and helpful glossary, as well as the scores of poems Leithauser analyzes with sophistication and verve, will open up new interrogations of poetry’s expressive force and will become indispensable to readers, writers, students and teachers.” —Richie Hofmann, author of A Hundred Lovers
“Erudite and funny, Rhyme’s Rooms by Brad Leithauser is a stroll through the art of building poems. It wisely reminds us that the shape of a poem depends as much on the body of the poet as it does on the spirit.” —Tomás Q. Morín, author of Machete
“If Hogwarts Academy recommended this book of practical magic for its Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum, that wouldn’t be the only excellent reason to buy it. Professor Leithauser knows as much about poetry as anyone alive, and he’s very good company—synoptic, insightful, funny. And the illustrative dollops and samples he brings to table (many of them new to me) might be another reason enough to get this book. It’s a dessert-cart to delight the literary and remind apostates whyever they thought they loved poetry in the first place.” —Richard Kenney, author of Terminator
“This is neither a writer’s manual, nor a reader’s handbook, but something much more enticing, an architectural tour of the art of poetry by a contemporary master. Leithauser’s witty and learned presence enlivens every page, but his aim is to help us experience for ourselves how the formal blueprints make for a thrilling environment, how the features of each room play between expectation and surprise. Leithauser’s outlandish hypotheticals acknowledge the strangeness of poetry while his everyday comparisons link it to human fundamentals. He helps us, most importantly, to slow down, listen and look, discover the patterns and tensions that make poems such rewarding spaces to wander in.” —Bonnie Costello, author of The Plural of Us
“An absolutely extraordinary piece of scholarship/criticism and poetic listening. I was again and again amazed at the range, the inventiveness, and the high poetic level of the prose.” —William Pritchard, Critic and Professor Emeritus at Amherst College
“Brad Leithauser’s every written sentence is infused with music. Part of my own page-by-page delight, roaming through Rhyme's Rooms, was imagining how much my father would have relished Leithauser’s ardent plunge into the workings of poetry. Leonard Bernstein, who loved words as passionately as he did notes, would have instantly recognized a kindred spirit: another joyful laborer in the pastures of sonority and rhythmic muscle; a fellow reveler in the beauty of rigor, and the rigor of beauty.” —Jamie Bernstein, author of Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein
"In Rhyme's Rooms Brad Leithauser has written a wise, luminous guide to poetry from Geoffrey Chaucer through Marvin Gaye. A distinguished poet in his own right, Leithauser combines a scholar's wisdom with the wonder of somebody discovering magic." —Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize–winning music critic