Books on How to Write Poetry

*Check out these Best books on writing poetry - books you can use without paying the big bucks for an MFA program:

Support us -- Buy at Amazon
  1. In the Palm of Your Hand, Steve Kowit. Cheery. Lots of practical exercises.
  2. The Poet's Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. Encouraging to beginners. Includes erotic writing.
  3. The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behen and Chase Twichell. A grab-bag of 90 writing exercises by poets who teach writing.
  4. Making Your Own Days, Kenneth Koch. Lucid and delightful book on the pleasures of reading and writing poetry.
  5. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott. A delightful book to help you stop procrastinating and prove you are a writer, one word at a time.
  6. Writing Poetry, Barbara Drake. A useful student's text.
  7. A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver. A short book without exercises.
  8. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser.
  9. Writing Poems, Robert Wallace. A workman-like book of over 400 pages.

#1 In the Palm of Your Hand, Steve Kowit.
(1995, ISBN 0-88448-149-2)
Buy Kowit Highly recommended. Brimming with clear and practical exercises, Kowit's book is the best 'How to' book to help you start writing poetry. My favorite chapter ('first among equals') is Chapter 5 on Awful Poems, where Kowit leads us cheerily through the frequent mistakes that appear in our poems, with exercises to correct them.

Altogether Kowit gives us 30 chapters, in the areas of:
* How to Begin.
* Memory (memory being the loam in which so many of our poems are rooted).
* The Secret of Writing (no, I won't tell you - read the book).
* Music and Metaphor (excellent for making your poems more memorable).
* Experiment and Tradition (rich with ideas and approaches to both recent and classic forms of poetry).
* Themes (including the political, the desired, and the lost).

Read a chapter a day for a month. Each day, think about one of the exercises in the chapter you last read. At the end of the day (or the start of the next morning) write what comes up -- maybe it will be a poem, or at least a first draft. After such a month you may well be ready to put into practice the final chapters of:
* Nuts and Bolts on poetry workshops and publishing your poetry.

#2 The Poet's Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
(1997, ISBN 0-393-31654-8)
Buy Addonizio Recommended with enthusiasm. The Poet's Companion does the essential job of helping us generate work. (In the middle of reading the second page, I put it down for 15 minutes to rough-draft a new poem!)

The book's sections are:

#3 The Practice of Poetry, Edited by Robin Behen and Chase Twichell.
(1992, 0-062-73024-X)
Buy Behn This collection of over 90 poetry-writing exercises is presented in a sequence of brief (1-or-2-page) essays to inspire both the experienced and the budding poet. Behen and Chase Twichell constructed the book by soliciting and then compiling favorite writing exercises from hundreds of poets.

Their introduction includes a helpful summary of the value of exercises, which can be a powerful scaffold that eventually falls away as a writer's genuine poem takes flight from an exercise. The contributions are grouped as:

Sadly, this book has almost no sample poems. I prefer Steve Kowit's, which has more continuity, and which includes lots of neighborly poems to illustrate his topics and help jump-start the reader-poet.

#4 Making Your Own Days, Kenneth Koch.
(1998, 0-684-82438-8)
Buy Koch Koch celebrates the language of poetry as a separate language, and thereby clarifies how poems are written and can be read. Entrancing selection of poems from Sappho (7th century B.C.) through Li Bai (8th century C.E.) to Arthur Rimbaud (19th century), plus many modern poems. No explicit exercises.

#5 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott.
(1995, 0-385-48001-6)
Buy Lamott This is the famous book wherein Anne Lamott shows you how to find your passion, your voice, your first draft (no matter how feeble), and your publication-ready manuscript.
For example, she notes that, no matter how small your audience, "to have written your version is an honorable thing."
Writers of poetry and of prose can learn much from this delightful, practical, enthralling, and wise book.

#6 Writing Poetry (2nd edition, 1993), Barbara Drake.
385 pages. Lots of examples and ideas to help you start writing. Useful discussions of sample poems. A well regarded text.

#7 A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver.
(1994, 0-156-72400-6)
Mary Oliver is an enthusiast of the craft of poetry. She has written this book to provide poets with "the history of their particular field and with past as well as with current theories and techniques," No explicit exercises. While this book rates relatively high in sales (at least in Amazon's rankings), I find the books above more inspiring. However, the small size of this book makes it the easiest to take to the beach.

#8 The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser.
Full of sensible advice.

#9 Writing Poems, Robert Wallace.
(1987, 0-316-92000-2)
Contains groups of chapters on: