Poetry School staff doing some ‘very important’ poetry-based research on Facebook one recent lunchtime noticed an interesting thread populating itself on Allison McVety’s page.
Poet and friend of the Poetry School, Allison was asking for recommendations on the technicalities of writing poetry – and dozens of her writerly friends responded with tried-and-tested books and essays useful for poets at any stage.
Alison’s kindly bundled all the recommendations into a list for us, and we’ve added some of our own Poetry School favourites too. Happy browsing!
Adrienne Rich, What Is Found There: Notebooks
Alfred Corn, A Poem’s Heartbeat
Anne Carson, Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera
Anne Stevenson, Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop
Barbara Herrnstein Smith, A Study of How Poems End
Clare Brown & Don Paterson (eds), Don’t Ask Me What I Mean
Dennis O’Driscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney
Den Young, The Art of Recklessness
Don Paterson, the foreword to 101 Sonnets
Durs Grünbein, The Vocation of Poetry
Fiona Sampson, Poetry Writing: The Expert Guide
Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry
Helen Ivory & George Szirtes (eds), In Their Own Words
Hayden Carruth, Effluences from the Sacred Caves
Jacqueline Saphra & David Orr, Beautiful and Pointless
James Fenton, An Introduction to English Poetry
James Fenton, The Strength of Poetry
James Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line
Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates – Entering the Mind of Poetry
Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux, The Poet’s Companion
Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius
Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry
Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World Into Word
Mary Kinzie, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, 2nd Edition (Chicago Guides)
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
Mary Oliver, Rules for the Dance
Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack and Honey
Matthew Sweeney & John Hartley Williams, Write Poetry and Get It Published
Michael Donaghy, Wallflowers
Neil Astley And Bill Herbert and Matthew Hollis, Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry
Paul Muldoon, The End of the Poem
Peter Sansom, Writing Poems
Philip Levine, Don’t Ask and So Ask
Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell, The Practice of Poetry
Stephen Dobyns, Best Words, Best Order
Stephen Dobyns, Next Word, Better Word
Stephen Dunn, Walking Light
Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled
Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making
Ted Kooser, Poetry Home Repair Manual
Timothy Steele, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing
Tom Sleigh, Interview With A Ghost
Tony Hoagland, Real Sofistikashun
Tony Hoagland, Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment
W N Herbert, Writing Poetry
ESSAYS & LETTERS
Essays of Auden (try ‘Reading’ & ‘Writing’)
Joseph Brodsky, Less Than Zero: Selected Essays
Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason: Essays
Tom Chivers (ed), Stress Fractures: Essays on Poetry
Don Paterson, ‘Dark Arts’
Don Paterson, ‘The Sound of Sense and the Sense of Sound’
Essays of John Berryman
Letters of John Keats
Essays of Hofmann
Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’
Essays of Randall Jarrell
Letters of Ted Hughes
T S Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism
Virginia Woolf’s diaries
University of Michigan series of ‘Poets on Poetry’
Anything crying out to be added?
Very helpful, thank you.
Do add A Poet’s Handbook by Mary Oliver, Writing Poetry by WN Herbert, and Stress Fractures: Essays on Poetry, edited by Tom Chivers
The Poem’s Heartbeat by Alfred Corn
Is there a public version of this list? Would be great to send to people who contact me via my poetry blog asking where to start.
I have some suggestions from America that were important books for me:
Tom Sleigh: INTERVIEW WITH A GHOST (an idiosyncratic but fascinating set of essays about his and others’ poetry, with memoir-ish elements)
Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell: THE PRACTICE OF POETRY: WRITING EXERCISES FROM POETS WHO TEACH
Lyn Hejinian: THE LANGUAGE OF INQUIRY
I know there are others , but these come to mind quickly.
I have the Mary Oliver one and it’s good, there’s another of hers Rules for the Dance: Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse which is helping me too, as I struggle with metrical poems.
Stephen Dobyn’s two books on craft are excellent ‘Best Words, Best Order’ and ‘Next Word, Better Word’. The critical writings of the American poet
Hayden Carruth are also worth reading, e.g. ‘Effluences from the Sacred Caves’.
I’ve found John Greening’s ‘Poetry Masterclass’ from Greenwich Exchange helpful, too.
Michael J. Bugeja “The Art and Craft of Poetry” a very helpful resource
By which I meant — please correct the spelling: Hayden, not Hyden. Then you can delete this message, and my previous one.
Robert Pinsky: SINGING SCHOOL. Just came out in 2013. How to read/how to write. Brilliant.
I’m reading Timothy Steele’s book “All The Fun’s In How You Say A Thing: An Explanation Of Meter & Versification” http://www.amazon.com/All-The-Funs-Thing-Versification/dp/0821412604 He’s a new formalist in America. But I find his explanation of meter illuminating.
Mayakovsky gives practical advice: you need pen, pencil, typewriter, telephone, a suit for visiting the dole office [usually mistranslated as doss-house, but I’ve checked the original — the point is that with a suit you didn’t get classified as a manual labourer in the Soviet version of signing on] … On the Art and Craft of Writing by Gorky, Mayakovsky, (Alexei) Tolstoi and Fedin.
You might try William Stafford `Writing the Australian Crawl`. Odd title but brilliant on getting started in any sort of creative writing. Also Edward Hirsch, `How to Read a Poem` and Poets Choice` to show you the range of poetry. I used Bill Herbert`s Book, `Writing Poetry` over a period of several months like having your own poetry course with a personal tutor brilliant.
Great list, thanks. I would add Ruth Padel’s 52 ways of looking at a poem
Thanks Julia and everyone this is a great list- I really wanted to find some books that would help with form and technical sides of poetry writing- this will really help me great stuff
Excellent list! I would also like to clamor for a public-facing link to this post!