10 Books on Poetry Craft

10 Books on Poetry Craft

As a nod to April being poetry month, 10 on the 10th looks at the craft of writing poetry. So the books below are not poetry collections, but backstage glimpses into how poems are created and why, how they have evolved and how you can write poetry yourself.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it an “approved” or “recognized” list. This is a list of different aspects of writing poetry compiled by a lover of poetry and a work-in-progress poet. (Me, Gwynn Scheltema.) Some of these books I own, others have been recommended by friends and teachers at poetry courses. Be brave. Explore a few.

A Sky Full of Poems – Eve Merriam

This little book for children, is what got me started writing poetry. Eve Merriam explains the elements of rhythm, figurative language and other components of a poem with actual poems. Out of print now, it is still available as a used book.

How to Write Poetry – Nancy Bogen

An adult version of A Sky Full of Poems, this book covers the basics of the mechanics of poetry: meter, rhyme, traditional forms, sonics, tone, and rhythm. It also offers ways to get started.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry –  Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Want to dive deeper? This is the book I keep handy for its brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing, with exercises—a kind of do-it-yourself course—along with tips on getting published and writing in the electronic age.

An Introduction to Poetry – X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia

My well-thumbed textbook from poetry studies at Trent University, this comprehensive yet accessible volume offers everything from how to read a poem, to writing critically about a poem. It explores everything from irony to word choice, from imagery to assonance. All aspects are illustrated with examples, supported with further reading lists, questions and exercises to fully engage.

20th-Century Poetry and Poetics – Edited by Gary Eddes

And just like aspiring artists study art history and the old masters, so modern poets can benefit from a study of how poetry has developed up to the modern day, and what was written by those that came before. Over 70 poet profiles with poems and 30 essays provide fascinating reading. I especially like that a large number of the poets featured are Canadian.

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World – Jane Hirshfield

A fine poet in her own right, Hirshfield takes the reader through close readings of poems by famous poets from Dickinson and Bashō to Heaney and Bishop, and shows us how poems work.

The Art of Description: World into Word – Mark Doty

A master at evoking emotion in his own poems through description, this is a great book for poets looking to take their craft to another level. He explores the importance of describing the observable world and the inner experience of it, and the informing of each by the other. Doty’s “Description’s Alphabet,” an A to Z of random thoughts on description is just as relevant to prose as poetry.

Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry – Stephen Dobyns

If you want to understand more about communicating with your reader, Dobyns guides the poet through the intricacies of voice and tone, metaphor, and pacing among other things.

In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry – Edited by Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve.

This all-Canadian anthology presents more than 25 forms and 180 poems arranged by section, one for each form, giving the form’s history and variations. Used in classrooms across the country, it covers formal poetry from sonnets and ghazals, triolets and ballads, to villanelles and palindromes and many more.

Rhyming Dictionary

This list began simply and ends simply, and there are many versions of rhyming dictionaries available including online. All I know is that I have a Pocket Oxford version that has been a mind helper for years and can travel with me easily.

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