Resolution Check: Poetry Writing Guides

Photo of QuillChances are if you are a reader of poetry, you are a writer of poetry. If you’re like me and the whole writing thing has gone on a bit of a hiatus for AHEM almostthreeyears or so, your hypothetical list of goals for the New Year may have included flexing your writerly muscles more often. And if your January has gone like mine, it is possible you haven’t actually worked on those New Year’s goals at all. Thankfully, HCPL has an assortment of books to encourage and stir the muse within, whether you’re a certifiable bard or just a beginner looking for a place to start.

  • Inspirational Microessays

Cover Art: Writing Down the Bones, GoldbergThese three books take a similar approach to the writing guide, largely marrying the practice of zen meditation (see Goldberg especially for this) with a daily, habitual process of writing and observing. All three contain short narrative – almost memoiry – chapters, many including specific suggestions and writing exercises. Addonizio has structured her book in such a way that encourages linear reading, the other two books are not necessarily so, bouncing from topic to topic in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner. Any could be a useful reference for poets at all levels who could use a quick spark of inspiration.

Ordinary Genius, Kim Addonizio
Poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg

  • Nuts & Bolts

These books each survey of the craft of writing poetry from the basics of form and meter to the practicalities of getting Cover Art: The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Kooserpublished. If you’re looking for a comprehensive beginner’s guide that you could sit down and read cover to cover, look no further than this short list. (Although I think Kooser’s forthright and practical approach to combat elitism and intentional obscurity is a good read for experienced poets, too.)

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop, Steve Kowit
The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser
The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio

  • Books to Pretend You’re In School

Cover Art: Next Word, Better Word, Dobyns If you’ve studied creative writing in school and you miss the experience, or if you’re interested in what the  academic writing world has to offer, these books are written by professors firmly entrenched in that world  and all bring their experience both as students and teachers of poetry. With this list you can create your  own MFA program with a fancy textbook (Kinzie), collected lectures (Ruefle), and close readings  (Dobyns). Herbert’s book provides the workshop experience without leaving home, and Hugo offers the  kinds of stories and unsolicited advice you might get if you happen to visit a professor during office hours.

Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Ruefle
Next Word, Better Word, Stephen Dobyns
A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, Mary Kinzie
The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo
Writing Poetry, W. N. Herbert

If you’ve read a writer’s guide that you found helpful, please share your knowledge and add it to the list in the comments! Bless your heart for reading (and writing) poetry.

Flickr CC: Writing Apparatus by Kazarelth


Love this blog. It's just

Love this blog. It's just kind of nice to know these books are out there--kind of a security-blanket-in-reserve.

Graywolf publishes The Art of... series which I highly recommend for any serious writer/poet. The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt, The Art of the Line by James Longenbach, The Art of Time by Joan Silber and The Art of Recklessness by Carl Phillips are particularly good.