As the prize-winning author of four collections, Zapruder has an impressive pedigree, but he’s refreshingly humble and direct here ... Believing all a poem requires is our full attention, Zapruder does skillful close readings of 'The Waste Land,' as well as work by Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and other masters. He breaks down poems 'literally,' in accessible prose that clarifies their meanings ... Why Poetry casts its net wide and hauls in a splendid bounty. Zapruder quotes sources as diverse as Pope Francis, Pema Chödrön, Keats and Roxane Gay, and moves nimbly from French surrealism to Japanese haiku. He engages deeply with language and meaning and doesn’t shy away from crucial questions of ethics or politics, examining Audre Lorde on racial violence, Amiri Baraka on 9/11, Adrienne Rich on rape ... While intellectually rigorous, his chapters resonate because of currents of personal revelation running alongside the argument.
Is it necessary? Is it designed primarily to be purchased and read by students being introduced to the reasons for and methods of reading poetry? I don’t know ... I understand Zapruder’s interest in preaching to the unconverted. I suspect he is a terrific teacher. His readings of poems are subtle and convincing. I found myself thinking, 'Gosh, I never saw that obvious thing in quite that way before,' many times during my reading, which is precisely what should happen when reading about literature: We are humbled by its operations on our own minds and the need for others to read with us.
Zapruder has written a book intended to help mend the rift between poems and readers. He wants to restore our access to poetry’s considerable gifts, to aid us in reclaiming that birthright. By my lights, this is a noble and ambitious agenda … Why Poetry is intelligent, straightforward, lucid, and cleanly reasoned. The book reads like a single essay in some respects, because Zapruder’s central points about poetry not being a code, about its literary uniqueness and resultant usefulness, are patiently reiterated across his essays … The pieces included here are teacherly in the best sense. Why Poetry’s tone blends enthusiasm and erudition. Flashes of autobiography are integrated into the text, making the essays warmer and less lecture-y. In his prose Zapruder abides by his own maxim about poetry, that ‘clarity’ can be ‘a kind of generosity.’