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A Poetry Handbook

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With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). Index.


With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). Index.

30 review for A Poetry Handbook

  1. 3 out of 5

    Richelle Wilson

    A Poetry Handbook is something I wish I had read a lot earlier in my career as a student of literature, to say nothing of the tentative ventures I’ve made into writing poetry since I was young. A lot of people say this book is a good reiteration of things they learned in their college classes, but I sincerely think it’s an introduction we all need. I never learned about vowel and consonant sounds in my poetry seminars. Maybe somewhere down the line a professor glossed over the principles of scan A Poetry Handbook is something I wish I had read a lot earlier in my career as a student of literature, to say nothing of the tentative ventures I’ve made into writing poetry since I was young. A lot of people say this book is a good reiteration of things they learned in their college classes, but I sincerely think it’s an introduction we all need. I never learned about vowel and consonant sounds in my poetry seminars. Maybe somewhere down the line a professor glossed over the principles of scansion as though we already knew them (most of us don’t). So quite frankly, given that the basic formal elements of poetry discussed in this book are vital and that Mary Oliver treats them in a way that is simple, honest, and shimmers like poetry itself, there is absolutely no reason for any reader or writer of poetry to ignore this little handbook. “It is written to empower the beginning writer who stands between two marvelous and complex things—an experience (or an idea or a feeling), and the urge to tell about it in the best possible conjunction of words.” And empower she does. One thing I like in particular about this book is Oliver’s emphasis on form. I’ve only taken one creative workshop in my time as a university student so perhaps this assessment of fellow contemporary writers is premature, but I was appalled at how the professor (whom I do admire greatly) and the other students seemed altogether uninterested in developing an awareness of historical form. I understand that it is outdated and impractical to earnestly write something in metrical verse these days, but why not do it as an exercise? Why not learn how those rhythms work so that writers of free verse can be more deliberate in their poetic choices? That is precisely what Mary Oliver calls for. To be honest, I still wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of reading the chapters on metrical lines and forms. Many in English departments who care about scansion seem to do so for its own stilted and limiting purpose: to say “This is iambic pentameter! I identified that! Someone give me a cookie!” Okay, but what does that mean? How does it help us analyze the poem? Oliver gives great insights into how form shapes pacing, tempo, stress, perhaps by extension mood and tone, style, etc. and works to contribute to a poem’s overall impact and meaning. Thank you! I will give her a cookie. I loved her discussion on how free verse came to be the standard poetic form of the twentieth century and into the present day. In the past, I have heard this shift to free verse characterized as a “break from the past” (kind of like a rejection of the canon), a way of making poetry more democratic, or even as carelessness. While some of those may be true (barring the last option, which I don’t agree with), Mary Oliver points out several other compelling reasons for the advent and growing popularity of free verse: first of all, a growing print culture. “Free verse came into fashion just as the availability of books was becoming widespread, and the practice of reading poems with one’s eyes, and listening to them silently, was taking precedence over the oral tradition” (56). She goes on to describe the importance of the free verse poet’s attention to line breaks and visual presentation: “The pattern on the page, then, became the indicator of pace, and the balance and poise of the poem was inseparable from the way the line breaks kept or failed a necessary feeling of integrity, a holding together of the poem from beginning to end. The regular, metrical line gave assistance to a listener who sought to remember the poem; the more various line breaks of the ‘visual’ poem gave assistance to the mind seeking to ‘hear’ the poem” (56). I love how she talks about how any poem—including, or even especially, those written in free verse—has to be balanced and measured. “Every poem has as basic measure, and a continual counterpoint of differences playing against that measure. Poems that do not offer such variations quickly become boring” (56). However, as she emphasizes time and time again, “the poem needs to be reliable” (56; I guess that page is jam-packed with quotables). “A poem requires a design—a sense of orderliness. Part of our pleasure in the poem is that it is a well-made thing—it gives pleasure through the authority and sweetness of the language used in the way that it is used” (58, her italics). How we say is just as important, if not more, than what we say. In other words, the poet needs to be purposeful. And how is that possible without some knowledge of the poetic devices at your disposal and their effect? Given all of that, it is very helpful that she sets up a few ordering principles for free verse poems, which are “by no means exempted from the necessity of having a design, though one must go about it in rather different ways” (66). She then talks about line, syntax, repetition, stress, enjambment, diction, and perhaps the most important for any poet, “setting up a felt pattern of expectation and meeting that expectation” (66). As my workshop instructor told me, a poem doesn’t have to do everything; it just has to say one thing and say it well. Creating that expectation at the beginning and fulfilling it by the end is the excitement of our call to write, I think. We want to express something we’ve felt or experienced and do it justice; Mary Oliver is master at that. We would all do well to listen to what she has to say. I was also taken with her discussion of the intimacy of the free-verse form: “Now a line was needed that would sound and feel not like formal speech but like conversation. What was needed was a line which, when read, would feel as spontaneous, as true to the moment, as talk in the street, or talk between friends in one’s own house... That, I think, is the long and short of it. Speech entered the poem. The poem was no longer a lecture, it was time spent with a friend. Its music was the music of conversation” (69-70). And what sweet music. In that same section, just pages later, she gives the most compelling analysis for the significance of William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” I’ve ever heard. I was a little confused by her distaste for what she calls “poetic diction” (87-88), by which I think she actually means excessively lofty, worn-out language from poets in days gone by: emerald carpets, birds in a choir, et al. I’m not sure I totally agree with her on this. Her example of trees as Druids actually sounds quite lovely to me, and in her hands I think it would be a rather nice image. But I do like that she calls for us to be more thoughtful and candid with our diction and imagery rather than borrowing from old cliches. Speaking of cliches, she hates those too (88), and I laughed out loud at her declaration on the following page that “Proper syntax never hurt anyone.” She is playful throughout the text, and I was happy for that. If nothing else, go read her section on revision and the Conclusion. Beautiful stuff. I admire the balance she creates throughout the entire text between developing or honing formal skills and “that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live” (8). She insists on truly living, walking among green things, and noticing as being the key characteristics of a poet, but she also argues for the necessity of hard work, which is something I needed to hear. I read this cover-to-cover in a short period of time and I already want to read it again. It’s that good. It’s that sweet and necessary. Do yourself a favor and enter the dazzling world of poetry in the able hands of Mary Oliver. You will not regret it.

  2. 3 out of 5

    William Hurst

    Mary Oliver is known for her blend of mysticism with Whitman's pastoral fixation. In that vein, this book on the craft of poetry does not disappoint. While other craft books may be more practical (such as the ever-popular The Poet's Companion), A Poetry Handbook probes deeper into the indefinable aspects of verse. Some will tire of this quickly. Why write a book about the unnameable aspects of the art? Oliver's handbook is necessary because while skilled poets may see the strings of talent, beaut Mary Oliver is known for her blend of mysticism with Whitman's pastoral fixation. In that vein, this book on the craft of poetry does not disappoint. While other craft books may be more practical (such as the ever-popular The Poet's Companion), A Poetry Handbook probes deeper into the indefinable aspects of verse. Some will tire of this quickly. Why write a book about the unnameable aspects of the art? Oliver's handbook is necessary because while skilled poets may see the strings of talent, beauty, sound, and art working behind a normal poem, most poets just starting out do not. Oliver's text is meant to sharpen the poetic senses, not through rigorous practical exercises, but by discussing how poetry does what it does, how it grabs and doesn't let go. For that, Oliver should be commended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Oliver doesn't disappoint, her beautiful words inspire. The technical part of this book was a little harder for me to dig through, but if you are patient she has gems waiting for you. The honesty about how much revision goes into good writing was sobering and a relief in some ways. She doesn't just sit down and write these gorgeous things instantaneously, huh? ;)

  4. 3 out of 5

    Joseph

    Great introduction and refresher.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mindy

    The best little book on poetry I've come across. Oliver is a master of beautiful, unshowy simplicity. This book covers the basics of poetry, including sound, diction, tone, meter, rhyme, and imagery, and it explains in clear terms why each component is important, and says at least a thing or two about how to do it "right" (well?) and "wrong" (poorly?). Oliver incorporates good examples and useful quotations. The book is true pleasure: wise, measured, clear.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erin Stile

    Mary Oliver remains beyond doubt one of the richest souls of poetry in contemporary Western culture, a strongly needed antidote to the rapaciousness and heartlessness of our society. I came to this book curious as to how someone so deeply enmeshed in the poetry of life would discuss the art of poetry-writing. (I hate to say "techniques" or "mechanics," words that so demean what fine poets do--although I grant that "art" itself derives from the same root as "artifice.") The prose is as clear and Mary Oliver remains beyond doubt one of the richest souls of poetry in contemporary Western culture, a strongly needed antidote to the rapaciousness and heartlessness of our society. I came to this book curious as to how someone so deeply enmeshed in the poetry of life would discuss the art of poetry-writing. (I hate to say "techniques" or "mechanics," words that so demean what fine poets do--although I grant that "art" itself derives from the same root as "artifice.") The prose is as clear and honed as her poetry, but as prose it does not shine like the verse. You could only expect crisp simplicity and limpidity from Oliver. The selections of poems she provides as examples fit clearly with her descriptions of the relevant angles of art she is discussing. My disappointment--and this was not a profound disappointment--was that little, if any, new was revealed about the art of poetry which you cannot find elsewhere. In fact, what was offered was less than can be found elsewhere. The chapters each feel slight, as if she is distilling too much, but they come off as summaries rather than depth and digging. I feel she is almost holding back, as if she does not want us to know more about appreciating and writing poetry. I realize one aim here is to fulfill some needs of writing workshops, and so the absolute basics are in order. But the book could fulfill those needs for basics while also going into more detail about the greater subtleties of poetry-creation. I do not mean to say the author is deliberately restraining and holding back her secrets. Only that the original aim was perhaps too rudimentary. Maybe I am expecting too much, and even the greatest poets really have no place to attempt digging into their intuitions and hearts for whatever makes their blood and poetry organs turn out their beauty. Keats gave a few prosaic hints of his own poetic outlook in a single essay. Eliot as a critic certainly offered a lot of material from which can be inferred his own poetics. I am no poet, so I am not begging for secrets to make my own poetry organ go. At worst, I so joy in being in Oliver's spirit that I, like any of her followers, could only wish for more such prose work, along, of course, with the verse she has generously provided.

  7. 3 out of 5

    Bill Martin

    For the Lit. MFA, Mary Oliver's compact handbook may not offer an avalanche of commendable qualities. But for those of us without the luxury of formal training or professional mentoring, those who endeavor to become better readers of poetry as well as novices in the craft, A Poetry Handbook should fit in a welcome spot on our shelves and furnish our minds with a quarry of solid principles, foundation stones to build on. I read the less-than-150-page text over a weekend. I have the feeling that I For the Lit. MFA, Mary Oliver's compact handbook may not offer an avalanche of commendable qualities. But for those of us without the luxury of formal training or professional mentoring, those who endeavor to become better readers of poetry as well as novices in the craft, A Poetry Handbook should fit in a welcome spot on our shelves and furnish our minds with a quarry of solid principles, foundation stones to build on. I read the less-than-150-page text over a weekend. I have the feeling that I will go back again and again to mine it's riches. Oliver has that rare quality of giving plainspoken advice to beginners--encouraging mediocre poets to work hard to be better--while providing polished gems of wisdom for more accomplished pens. For example, her chapter on imagery is woefully brief and barely introductory of such seminal devices as metaphor and personification, yet she manages to say everything she wants in a line comparing figurative language to the pimeval forest floor, "the very mud and leaves of the world. Without this mud and leaves--and fish and rises and honeybees-- the poem would be as dull as a mumble." In sum, A Poetry Handbook reads like a master class for bright, engaged undergraduates. I recommend it for intro teachers, students, general readers and poets, especially if you are self-taught. I picked up the other Oliver handbook, Rules of the Dance, as a companion, and am reading it more slowly.

  8. 3 out of 5

    Carol

    I liked this, I did. I'm spoiled by John Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean? Nevertheless, this was a helpful overview of essential elements to good poetry. Perhaps because nothing seemed new, it didn't strike me as a "must read." Oliver articulates what I've always believed: To write well it is necessary to read widely and deeply. When she talks about revision, she admits that her poems have roughly 40-50 drafts. Well, now. The crowning jewel of a quote came at the end. These are her closing words. I'v I liked this, I did. I'm spoiled by John Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean? Nevertheless, this was a helpful overview of essential elements to good poetry. Perhaps because nothing seemed new, it didn't strike me as a "must read." Oliver articulates what I've always believed: To write well it is necessary to read widely and deeply. When she talks about revision, she admits that her poems have roughly 40-50 drafts. Well, now. The crowning jewel of a quote came at the end. These are her closing words. I've made some line breaks for easier reading. There is nourishment in books, other art, history, philophies—in holiness and mirth. It is in honest hands-on labor also; I don't mean to indicate a preference for the scholarly life. And it is in the green world—among people, and animals, and trees for that matter, if one genuinely cares about trees. A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision—a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.

  9. 3 out of 5

    Jan Duncan-O'Neal

    While Oliver knows her stuff and is respected, I don't find passion in this slim handbook as I do in other books in the genre such as Ted Kooser's Poetry Home Repair Manual or Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem. The sample poems she includes are not fully explored or mined as I would have hoped.

  10. 3 out of 5

    Carrie

    I want to take a long walk through a misty forest discussing writing with Mary.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mrs. Bunny

    4.5

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I suspect the problem I had with Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook was that I really, really wanted it to be Strunk and White 2: This Time it's Verse-onal. Oliver presents a concise and straightforward introduction to the art of poetry, focusing on the importance of both exposing yourself to many different poems and poets and of imitating some of those many, techniques which are considered traditional in the visual arts but not so much in the written. Having laid her foundation, she moves on to the I suspect the problem I had with Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook was that I really, really wanted it to be Strunk and White 2: This Time it's Verse-onal. Oliver presents a concise and straightforward introduction to the art of poetry, focusing on the importance of both exposing yourself to many different poems and poets and of imitating some of those many, techniques which are considered traditional in the visual arts but not so much in the written. Having laid her foundation, she moves on to the building of the structure of a poem - the sound, the line, the form, the verse, the image - before closing with the finishing touches of revision and a debate of the pros and cons of workshopping versus solitary composition. It's all fine, so far as it goes, but the tone felt a little elevated for something theoretically intended to open up access to poetry; whatever Oliver's arguments against the conversational style of modern poetry, her Handbook could have used some of the sly humor of Strunk and White. Still, blink and you'll miss this guide, so the MFA-program tone doesn't have much time to wear on you. While an excellent choice for something to assign students in a composition class, Oliver's Handbook's formal tone and over-reliance on samples of verse drawn from overexposed poems (Leaves of Grass, The Red Wheelbarrow, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening) may make this a less-than-ideal pick for reluctant readers of poetry who are looking for a friendlier point of entry to the art.

  13. 3 out of 5

    Karen

    This book is delightful and interesting to read, despite being a type of textbook or "bible" for poetry. I enjoyed Mary Oliver's descriptions and discection of sounds, and how they are used to magnify thoughts and messages within poetry or in any written piece. Her insight into the use of certain letters to convey feelings and/or tone is fascinating, and extremely helpful for the budding writer. Mary Oliver uses the same mechanisms she describes within the book itself, which makes for pleasant r This book is delightful and interesting to read, despite being a type of textbook or "bible" for poetry. I enjoyed Mary Oliver's descriptions and discection of sounds, and how they are used to magnify thoughts and messages within poetry or in any written piece. Her insight into the use of certain letters to convey feelings and/or tone is fascinating, and extremely helpful for the budding writer. Mary Oliver uses the same mechanisms she describes within the book itself, which makes for pleasant reading and keeps the reader's attention. Also, her choice of poets for her examples of effective use of sound, meter, and simply put the English language were excellent. I was in the woods with Robert Frost, and was standing next to the Red Wheelbarrow. All of Mary Oliver's key points can be applied with any written piece if an author so chooses, and it is a book that is now a permanent part of my library. Ms. Oliver has effectively simplified poetry, and at the same time made writing more difficult with her contagious desire to apply poetic mechanisms to all writing. Bravo Mary! Bravo!

  14. 3 out of 5

    Erik Akre

    I thank Mary Oliver, for wasting not a minute of my time with this book. The poet is amazingly succinct in her explanation of the poem, and the writing of the poem. The word "handbook" does seem appropriate; it tells the new poet what he needs to know, and absolutely nothing more. From here one can begin to experiment, with the confidence that he at least knows enough to begin. Extremely practical and informative it is, but also inspiring. Oliver's love of poems comes right through; it is infect I thank Mary Oliver, for wasting not a minute of my time with this book. The poet is amazingly succinct in her explanation of the poem, and the writing of the poem. The word "handbook" does seem appropriate; it tells the new poet what he needs to know, and absolutely nothing more. From here one can begin to experiment, with the confidence that he at least knows enough to begin. Extremely practical and informative it is, but also inspiring. Oliver's love of poems comes right through; it is infectious. This book alone sparked my intrigue with writing poetry; I mean that it gave me the first real sense that I too could write. There are no illusions here that writing well is easy, but there is plenty of encouragement to practice technique, practice, and seeing the world with fresh eyes. The handbook provides quick acceleration into a writer's realm of possibility. It's not just about writing either; I have rapidly become a better reader of poems since I began it, only a week ago. Recommended highly for beginning or aspiring poets.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shauna

    This book does exactly what you'd want an introductory book on writing poetry to do: It briefly (120 pages) reviews the basics of poetry, defines many poetry terms, introduces the reader to some popular meters, and uses real poems for examples. I had learned much of this information decades ago in high school, but had not realized it until I started reading this book and realized I had come across this info before. I found it an excellent refresher for someone who wants to try their hand at poet This book does exactly what you'd want an introductory book on writing poetry to do: It briefly (120 pages) reviews the basics of poetry, defines many poetry terms, introduces the reader to some popular meters, and uses real poems for examples. I had learned much of this information decades ago in high school, but had not realized it until I started reading this book and realized I had come across this info before. I found it an excellent refresher for someone who wants to try their hand at poetry for the first time and needs to learn (or refresh) the basics. I followed this book up with a longer, more in-depth examination of writing poetry. If you are interested in actually writing poetry, you'll probably want to to. But if you just want to understand how poems are constructed and how to read them, this book may be all you need. Biggest plus: Easy and fast to read Biggest minus: I was interested in learning about structured poetry with metrical lines, and this book focused too much on free verse for my taste

  16. 3 out of 5

    Alarie

    Perhaps my expectations were too high, since I admire Mary Oliver’s poetry so much. It was probably naïve to think she could pass along some of her genius to others in a handbook. However, the book could at least have had more depth, more exercises, and been more entertaining. This is a book for a novice and much too basic for me (yes, I know novices need a book that doesn’t overwhelm them). I was also recently spoiled by Stephen Fry’s thorough, sometimes too thorough, handbook, The Ode Less Tra Perhaps my expectations were too high, since I admire Mary Oliver’s poetry so much. It was probably naïve to think she could pass along some of her genius to others in a handbook. However, the book could at least have had more depth, more exercises, and been more entertaining. This is a book for a novice and much too basic for me (yes, I know novices need a book that doesn’t overwhelm them). I was also recently spoiled by Stephen Fry’s thorough, sometimes too thorough, handbook, The Ode Less Travelled. He made me laugh out loud. Oliver mostly bored me. However, just when I thought she had wasted my time, she ended with a bang. I loved her philosophies of writing on pages 107-118 as she talks about imagery, literature, revision, and solitude. She believes writing workshops are a good idea, particularly for a beginning writer, but cautions that “the poem requires of the writer not society or instruction, but profound and unbroken solitude.”

  17. 3 out of 5

    Sarah

    Of course I'm a fan of everything Mary Oliver writes, so she is an excellent writer not only of but also on poetry. Her explanation on why Whitman is but one (oft-cited) example of free verse but is certainly not the last word in this dynamic form is itself a point worth heeding and one worth the the effort of the time it would take you to read this brief little volume. This example in particular showcases her lucidity and exemplary teaching style, which is shown again and again throughout. Read Of course I'm a fan of everything Mary Oliver writes, so she is an excellent writer not only of but also on poetry. Her explanation on why Whitman is but one (oft-cited) example of free verse but is certainly not the last word in this dynamic form is itself a point worth heeding and one worth the the effort of the time it would take you to read this brief little volume. This example in particular showcases her lucidity and exemplary teaching style, which is shown again and again throughout. Read this book if you love poetry, and if you do not already, you just might. You will certainly have a better understanding of the craft of writing it and a better foothold on how to approach reading it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    If I hadn't looked at the copyright, I would have thought this gem was a recent work of Oliver's. She is so wise and informative and authentic in this short guide, and she speaks to the reader as if they are one of her students, a person she wishes to mentor. I guffawed and nodded in agreement at some of her honest advice. For example, she says calls poetic diction "a collection of real clunkers. It is language that is stale, mirthful when it does not mean to be, and empty. Avoid it." Bazinga! O If I hadn't looked at the copyright, I would have thought this gem was a recent work of Oliver's. She is so wise and informative and authentic in this short guide, and she speaks to the reader as if they are one of her students, a person she wishes to mentor. I guffawed and nodded in agreement at some of her honest advice. For example, she says calls poetic diction "a collection of real clunkers. It is language that is stale, mirthful when it does not mean to be, and empty. Avoid it." Bazinga! Oliver provided great context and history of poetry throughout this book, and its organization is logical. The model poems she includes are appropriate for what she teaches. Any teacher of poetry, student of poetry, writer of poetry would feel informed and refreshed after reading this book.

  19. 3 out of 5

    Laura

    I forgot I had already read this until,I came on Goodreads. Well, I gave it only one star last time and I admit I'm still disappointed. Mary spends a good 2/3 of the book reviewing everything I already know about other writers' poems and not ever divulging how she packs so much magic into her own. I picked up a few hints, but nothing near the satisfying insight I was hoping for. Why so many chapters on rhyme and forms when she never uses these? How about an explanation of how she exploits or exp I forgot I had already read this until,I came on Goodreads. Well, I gave it only one star last time and I admit I'm still disappointed. Mary spends a good 2/3 of the book reviewing everything I already know about other writers' poems and not ever divulging how she packs so much magic into her own. I picked up a few hints, but nothing near the satisfying insight I was hoping for. Why so many chapters on rhyme and forms when she never uses these? How about an explanation of how she exploits or explores why them in her seemingly free poems?? I want to know her secrets!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    This is the poetry writer's bible. Not only is the content absolutely comprehensive and presented in a simple and beautifully organized manner, but it's written by a true poet. And it shows in her writing. This is a book on poetry written poetically. If you want to learn to write poetry or improve your poetry, pick up this book first, then read others if you feel you need to. But you'll find you keep going back to this one. I sometimes pick this book up just to read something beautiful, to be in This is the poetry writer's bible. Not only is the content absolutely comprehensive and presented in a simple and beautifully organized manner, but it's written by a true poet. And it shows in her writing. This is a book on poetry written poetically. If you want to learn to write poetry or improve your poetry, pick up this book first, then read others if you feel you need to. But you'll find you keep going back to this one. I sometimes pick this book up just to read something beautiful, to be inspired.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sincerae

    This is the shortest book I've read about crafting poetry, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's very useful for poets. Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the language and instruction she uses here is lush and useful. She breaks down the mechanics of poetry. She also strongly advocates that even though most of today's poetry is written in free verse, serious writers and readers of poetry should explore and be grounded in the classics.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    I usually read books like these more for the poetry than for the advice and this one was a little short on the poetry. Short in general, so a quick read. It didn't make me want to lock myself in a room and start, so, while it was clear and concise, I'm only giving it 3 stars. Not that my opinion matters.

  23. 3 out of 5

    Nathanael Green

    I use this book in one of my courses and have found it's one of the best at explaining poetry both to new poets and also to those students who thought they didn't like poetry. It's clear, concise, no-nonsense and incredibly helpful for new poets and those polishing their craft.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rose Peterson

    A practical poetry handbook bookended by some of the most beautiful writing about writing I've ever read. I will now always ask of myself, "How patient are you, and what is the steel of your will, and how well do you look and see the things of this world?"

  25. 5 out of 5

    Coe Douglas

    Brilliant, concise and inspired. A must for any writer, poet or storyteller.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rob the Obscure

    Brilliant insights from my favorite poet

  27. 3 out of 5

    Rebecca Schwarz

    A slim, delightful, and necessary book about the elements of poetry.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amelmag

    "How patient are you, and what is the steel of your will, and how well do you look and see the things of this world? If your honest answers are shabby, you can change them." I read this book slowly, slowly, slowly, over a period of more than a year. I do not write poetry, but I love to help my students write it, and there is much here that is applicable for more than poetry -- for all writing is connected in the end. There is little here that is revolutionary, but there is much that is helpful f "How patient are you, and what is the steel of your will, and how well do you look and see the things of this world? If your honest answers are shabby, you can change them." I read this book slowly, slowly, slowly, over a period of more than a year. I do not write poetry, but I love to help my students write it, and there is much here that is applicable for more than poetry -- for all writing is connected in the end. There is little here that is revolutionary, but there is much that is helpful for understanding and appreciating the poetic form. And there is inspiration in these pages to write -- to buckle down to the hard work necessary for releasing the prayer, the miracle, the "confession of faith" that is poetry. That is truth, and beauty, caught in written form.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ju$tin

    taking this advice on poetry in 2016 = bad. keep in mind this book was published in 1994. a lot of the insights / advice she shares are so cringeworthy / wrong / outdated. avoid.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    "If you are reliably there, [the poem] begins to show itself - soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all. Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime. Who knows anyway what is it, that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live? But we do know this: if it is going to enter into a passionate relationship and speak what is in its own portio "If you are reliably there, [the poem] begins to show itself - soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all. Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime. Who knows anyway what is it, that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live? But we do know this: if it is going to enter into a passionate relationship and speak what is in its own portion of your mind, the other responsible and purposeful part of you had better be a Romeo. It doesn't matter if risk is somewhere close by - risk it always hovering somewhere. But it won't involve itself with anything less than a perfect seriousness. For a would-be writer of poems, this is the first and most essential thing to understand. It comes before everything, even technique." In this book, Oliver alternates masterfully, wouldn't ya know, between the imaginative and the intellectual, between the personal and the universal. This is the delicate dance of poetry; it is not without its specific craft, yet it is not forever beholden to rules of form. The freedom of poetry is a gamble, and various writers meet various outcomes: jackpots, modest successes, clumsy and unfortunate losses. I read this book as an educator and as an author, and with each turn of the page, I weighed what the uses of the words might be. I found the conclusion particularly poignant in that it seemed to speak to me directly in this double role. Practicing the art and teaching the art are not at odds with each other; in fact, as I suspected, they are mutually enriching.

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