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JamesMichel 02-01-2004 03:09 PM

Hello All,

I am very new to this board and writing poetry. Can you recommend some good books that explain the technical details of writing poetry. Practically all the poetry books I find are only collections of poems, no information on form, meter, or structure. I really need this information if I am to really understand comments made when I finally submit some of my poetry on these boards.


James Michel

Hugh Clary 02-01-2004 04:48 PM

Western Wind, when wilt thou blow
And turn this rookie into pro?

Some recommend Tim Steele's "all the fun's in how you say a thing", but it was too boringly pedantic for my tastes, personally.

Clive Watkins 02-02-2004 11:47 AM

Dear James

First of all, if, as you say, you really are a beginner, I recommend a book now long out of print but still available second-hand (try this URL ): Robin Skelton’s The Practice of Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1971). Skelton was a widely published poet, a writer on poetry and a compiler of anthologies. Born and educated in the UK, he taught at Manchester University before moving in 1963 to Canada, where he became Professor of English at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He died in 1997.

The Practice of Poetry has 184 pages. Its chapter titles are these: “Finding the Word Hoard”, “Arranging the Word Hoard”, “The Basics of Verse”, “The Voices of Poetry”, “The Rhythms of Poetry”, “Approaches to Form”, “Staying in Business", “Strategies and Programmes” and “The Final Commitment”. There is an appendix entitled “The Technology of Verse: A Guide”, with the following sections: “A Guide to Rhymes, “A Guide to Metrical Feet”, “A Guide to Stanza Forms”, “A Guide to Obsessive Forms” and “A Guide to Other Verse Forms”.

As you progress, I would strongly recommend Derek Attridge’s book on metre, Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995). This is the most coherent description of the way in which traditional English metres operate, better, for instance, than Steele’s book referred to above, which is overlong and in some respects betrays inconsistencies. It is based on a clear account of the relevant phonetic features of English. Attridge also has useful things to say about non-metrical verse.

Another book for later might be Mary Kinzie’s A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, though her understanding of traditional metres is in my view not entirely sound.

The most important thing to do, however, is to read as much verse as you can, to read it closely, to begin to ask yourself why it might be that the writers chose to put things in such and such a way, considering, perhaps, other phrasings and patternings that seem plausible but which they rejected – and above all to learn by heart as much verse, metrical and non-metrical, as you can.

Good luck!

Clive Watkins

Fred Longworth 02-04-2004 03:25 PM

In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit.

The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.

Read them. Reread them. Re-reread them. And like Clive said, read enormous amounts of good poetry. I myself am a huge fan of Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Philip Levine and Maxine Kumin.



JamesMichel 02-05-2004 02:54 PM

Thanks you Hugh, Clive, and Fred for your replies. Now I just need to find the books. It looks like order time at the book store.

James Michel

oliver murray 02-05-2004 03:08 PM


I don't know the other books (yet) but I too would strongly recommend Mary Oliver's and Steve Kowit's. Thanks, Clive and Fred for the Skelton and Pinsky recommendations.



Janet Kenny 02-05-2004 06:12 PM


I stumbled on a book in a second hand bookshop. It is one of my treasures. I don't suppose it is still available except in similar shops.

"Forms of Verse British and American" by Sara deFord and Clarinda Harriss Lott, Goucher College.

Educational Division
New York Meredith Corporation

The reason I love the book is that it is crammed with examples as well as with information about form and it exudes a love for poetry of all kinds.

Another book for later on is a reference book about form. I am rather cross with it because it translates the fine Scottish border poem "A Lyke-Wake Dirge" into modern English, thus destroying all its music, without saying it has done so.
"The Book of Forms"
A Handbook of poetics,
By Lewis Turco
University Press of New England, Hanover

Hope these are of use,

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited February 05, 2004).]

Vicki Wilson 02-23-2004 03:18 PM

My two cents:

I like Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" and "Wild Mind." I know these are primarily fiction resources, but I thought they were great idea-starters.

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