This may be the most original and comprehensive text I’ve encountered for beginning poets. Naming the Unnameable is distinguished from “how to” books, or books intended to open a “creative path.” It embeds its philosophy in its shrewd pragmatics, offering enthusiasm and encouragement in the guise of real world advice and an abundance of specific ways to think and do and be as a writer. The student is encouraged to learn by doing, but––and this seems crucial––is stimulated to be a more informed and thoughtful reader as well. Naming the Unnameable demystifies the fear of doing and the fear of failing by accepting both as givens and providing multiple tools for getting past them. Rich, accessible connections are made throughout. Encouragement begins at the welcoming Introduction. The chapters on Voice and on Revision are masterful. The final chapters on publication and public reading—topics always in student minds but rarely discussed in books—treat their potentially intimidating subject matter as satisfying realities, and give clear, common sense guidance. While attending to craft, the text offers a wealth of practical encouragement and fresh ideas––such as the suggestion to assemble a personal anthology of “bad” (unappealing) poems, or links to rejection letters garnered by ultimately successful writers. The whole is structured to be useful. The range of examples and commentary is shrewdly arranged to display a diversity of possibilities the reader is invited to assess, interact with, and respond to in his or her own way. The diverse poems discussed are held up not as shining models to revere, but as the products of various dedicated practitioners, and the author addresses the student writer as if she/he might be one. An exemplary technique is the way the author pairs accomplished poets of very different aesthetics and then uses her own voice to create a dialogue, so that the poet cited is not “the” authority. This opens a space for the student’s response. Naming the Unnameable should find an enthusiastic reception by the instructor in the classroom, and certainly by student writers outside it as a personal resource well suited to the digital and information-saturated 21st century environment. The links alone are invaluable for a poet at any level, undergrad or graduate. The author has done admirably the requisite sifting, focusing and contextualizing that enables the student to go further with a new sense of purpose and possibility.
Stan Sanvel Rubin has taught poetry writing to undergraduate and graduate students for more than thirty years. He retired in 2013 as founding Director of the innovative Rainier Writing Workshop Low-Residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University and was the long-time Director of the SUNY Brockport Writers Forum and Videotape Library and the Brockport Summer Writing Workshops. He is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Author of four full-length collections of poetry, he writes regular essay reviews of poetry for the national journal, Water-Stone Review.