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Books About Poetry

Addonizo, Kim & Dorianne Laux: The Poet’s Companion

W.W Norton & Company, 1997

The focus is on both craft and process. Craft - providing tools of writing and Process - the day-to-day struggle to articulate experience.

Brooks, Cleanth: The Well Wrought Urn

Harcourt, 1975

The author addresses structure and how poems work, through commentaries on eleven selected poems


Deutsch, Babette: Poetry Handbook

Harper Perennial, 1974

This delightful little paperback dictionary of terms and concepts related to poetry is a reference work. However, it is so clear and enjoyable to read that one can read right through the book or browse in it spontaneously.


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

St Martin’s, 1996

There are essays on metaphor, pacing, tone, free verse, and the craft of poetry, using

wonderful and varied poems as examples. The last few chapters take a close look at the poetry of Rilke, Mandelstam, Chekhov, and Ritsos. 


Hirsch, Edward: A Poet’s Glossary

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

This is also a reference work, much larger and inclusive.  The definitions and descriptions of terms and concepts are more comprehensive (i.e., longer) than in the Deutsch reference, but equally clear and intelligible. This book is an excellent reference when a broad definition or explanation of a poetic term is needed.


Hirshfield, Jane: Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

HarperCollins, 1997

A marvelous collection of essays on poetry -- not on poetic craft, but on poetic art: how poems achieve beauty, power, and meaning; on poetic voice; on rhetorical effects; on originality; and on how poems engender emotional responses. I find myself often returning to the author’s comments on, and analysis of, Japanese poetry, Stevens, Hopkins and others. This is a lovely book.


Kooser, Ted: The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Bison Books 2007

This is an entertaining and (creatively) instructive discussion of "perspectives" in writing and reading poetry.


Oliver, Mary: A Poetry Handbook

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994

From the author’s introduction: “This book… is about matters of craft… about the part of the poem that is a written document…”. It is directed towards both writers and readers of poetry, with chapters on topics such as Sound, Forms, the Line, Imagery, Free Verse, etc. This is a delightfully opinionated work, and the author provides detailed analyses of individual poems to illustrate her instructional points.


Oliver, Mary: Rules for the Dance

Houghton Mifflin, 1998

Similar in voice and approach to A Poetry Handbook, this book concentrates in much greater detail on many aspects of metrical verse. There are chapters on such topics as rhyme, line length, metrical patterns, the use of meter in non-metrical verse, etc. The author targets both readers and writers of poetry, and includes an anthology of metrical poems at the end of the book.

Padgett, Ron, ed.: Handbook of Poetic Forms

Teachers & Writers Collaborative 2000

A simple reference book.


Strand, Mark and Boland, Eavan: The Making of a Poem

W.W. Norton, 2000

This book is both a book about poetry and a targeted anthology. The book is divided into sections on Verse Forms (villanelle, sestina, etc.), Meter, Shaping Forms (elegy, pastoral, etc.), and Open Forms. Each section includes an introduction and overview followed by poems illustrative of the form or type.


Voigt, Ellen Bryant: The Art of Syntax

Greywolf Press 2009 

This book is recommended because it addresses how poetic sound is assembled. When we read for content and "discussability," we often overlook how the poetic expression affects the impact of the poem. Serendipitous note: Studies of brain responses to song suggest that the whole (lyrics and music) is greater than the parts.


Zapruder, Matthew: Why Poetry

ECCO HarperCollins, 2017

This is a deceptively informal and thoroughly enjoyable discussion of how poems work. The author analyzes and comments on specific poems to illustrate and illuminate discussions of a multitude of meditations on poems and poets, including: kinds of associations, negative capability, the languages of poems, imagination and writing, and how poets choose words.

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