Books for Poets

Now in our 26th year of inspiring poets and readers. Established 1998.

Recommended Books For Poets

In The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics there are 10 sections with each devoted to a poetic conceptsuch as "Discovering New Material," "Working with Sentences and Line Breaks," "Crafting Surprise," and "Achieving Tone." "Transforming Your Poems," and "Rethinking and Revising." The final section, "Publishing Your Book," covers manuscript organization, book promotion, and presentation of a good public reading. There are 30 brief craft essays, each followed by a model poem, analysis of the poem's craft, and then a prompt based on the poem.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse by Mary Oliver
Just as dancing is "the art of moving in accord with a pattern," says Mary Oliver, so is writing metrical verse. "One sorts out the pattern, one relies on it, and relaxes from effort to pleasure." The rules (concerning rhyme, line length, and pattern) are made if not to be deliberately flouted,then at least to be toyed with."

Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises 20 by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford is a book that will introduce you to 20 different kinds of poetry starters and provides exercises in writing poems based on both memory and imagination. The exercises are engaging and easy to understand . There are instructions on found poems, letter poems, pantoums, question-answer poems, and syllable count poems. Their writing style is breezy and conversational, the examples provided are of high quality yet not out of reach for a new writer. This book is often used as a text for student writers.

The Bloomsbury Rhyming Dictionary is a a useful tool for poets, and can frequently help generate unexpected word choices when you are thinking in form. Packed with useful information in an accessible format, this dictionary is fun and easy to use. A simple alphabetical index helps the reader locate a full set of rhyming words in the book's main text, making finding the perfect rhyme as easy as using a dictionary.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual is by Ted Kooser, 13th U.S. Poet Laureate. Like his own poetry, it's a simply written book of "Practical Advice for Beginning Poets."

Poet and teacher Maria Mazziotti Gillan says of her book, Writing Poetry To Save Your Life: How To Find The Courage To Tell Your Stories: "What I hope to accomplish in this book is to give writing prompts that will help you to get past all the outside influences that keep you from believing in yourself and in your ability to write. In order to write, you need to get rid of notions about language, poetic form, and esoteric subject matter and all the things that the poetry police have told you are essential if you are to write. I wanted to start from a different place, a place controlled by instinct rather than by intelligence. Revision, the shaping and honing of the poem, should come later, and, in revising, care always needs to be taken to retain the vitality and electricity of the poem. Anyone can learn to craft a capable poem, but it is the poems that retain that initial vitality that we remember; these are the poems that teach us how to be human."

"We wanted to create a book," say poets Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux in their introduction to The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry that would focus on both craft and process." They warn against cliches, and although textbooks on writing come a dime a dozen these days, theirs is head and shoulders above the rest. There are three main sections: "Subjects for Writing" (e.g. death, the erotic), "The Poet's Craft" (metaphor, rhyme), and "The Writing Life" (self-doubt, writer's block); four separate appendixes list other writing texts, anthologies, marketing tips, and electronic resources. The many exercises offered emerge largely from the intensive one-day workshops that have been conducted by Addonizio and Laux. "The trick," say the authors, "is to find out what we know, challenge what we know, own what we know, and then give it away in language."

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within is a "sequel" to Companion by Kim Addonizio. This book is less prompts and more about her insights into the creative process, craft, and the lessons of her own creative subjects--love, loss, identity, community--are here, along with a heady variety of writing exercises (and innovative ways to use the Internet). "Poetry is not a means to an end," Addonizio maintains, "but a continuing engagement with being alive." A good guide for beginners and experienced poets, for groups and in the classroom.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach edited by Robin Behn is unlike some of the other books here. This is a collection of exercises from a different poets and each one is expanded on in a commentary and explanation from the poet.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
is sometimes compared to two very good and popular books about writing that do not focus on poetry - Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. Those two books promote the idea of abandoning the idea that you can't write and to just start writing. Susan Wooldridge divides her book into 5 sections with short chapters, and each chapter ends with a "Practice" - a simple non-threatening creative exercise or suggestion.

The Crafty Poet, named a Best Book for Writers by Poets & Writers, is a resource for poets with practical advice and insights about establishing sound, voice, and syntax in poetry. It provide writing prompts and other poems as inspiration. Geared for the experienced poet as well as those just getting started, it can help break through writer's block, and is ideal for individual use at home or group use in the classroom or workshop. The book was popular enough to have a sequel - The Crafty Poet II.

Another collection popular enough to merit a sequel is Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry which is not a how-to book but was designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. The collection's editor, the very popular poet Billy Collins, says that he "selected the poems you will find here with high school students in mind" I think they are poems that any reader will find not only very accessible but also intended to be listened to. In 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, Collins continued the project that he began while he was Poet Laureate with an additional group of contemporary poems.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke This is not a craft book in the how-to sense but a collection of some of the most famous and beloved letters by a poet. Rainer Maria Rilke said that much of his creative expression went into his correspondence, and here he touches upon a wide range of subjects that will interest writers, artists, and thinkers.