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How to Write Poetry: a List of Various Guides, Primers, Essays and Introductions

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 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?


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