Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poetry for everyone, Pt. III

I can hardly read about poets and their work without trying my hand at writing poems. If you are interested in writing poems, here are a few books and sources that can help you get started and stay motivated.

• I've already mentioned The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes. The last section in the book, A Poet's Handbook, discusses writing and rewriting your poems. It includes exercises to get started and gives information on getting your work published.

• A neat little e-book is How to Write Poetry & Get it Published. This "guide for emerging poets" presents tips and shortcuts to writing and revising poems with the goal of publication. By the end of the fourth paragraph in the first chapter, you will have done an exercise that provides the foundation for a poem deeply rooted in the five senses.

• The first book I turned to when I wanted to write poems was In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. Early emphasis is placed on showing with details that allow the reader to see, feel and hear what the poem is about. Says Kowit on pg. 18: "It is more important to remember that the power of poetry rests to a large degree on the emotional intensity it generates." Then he takes you through exercises and example poems so you can practice and improve your own writings.

• Along the same lines, Josephine Nobisso's Show; Don't Tell!: Secrets of Writing, is considered a juvenile book but is for all ages, especially 7 & up. As it says on the back cover, "Don't be thrown by the format! For older ages, too." This picture book invokes the senses through touch (fabric), scratch n'sniff, and sound (I won't tell you what it is, but you have to push a button in the back of the book) all while teaching about nouns and adjectives. It's a fun, light book that is great to help young readers write descriptively.

Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan starts with how you see the world - the eye of the beholder - and progresses to putting what you see into words then into a story. Again, more exercises to clarify these concepts.

• Another gem I have on my shelf but not delved into as much as other books is The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser, the 13th Poet Laureate of the United States (two terms, 2004-2006) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2005. I like this book because it's accessible. Kooser says in About This Book, "Poetry's purpose is to reach other people and touch their hearts. If a poem doesn't make sense to anybody but its author, nobody but its author will care a whit about it." He uses recently written poems as examples because today, in the now, is when you are writing. Kooser also says, "I believe with all my heart that it's a virtue to show our appreciation for readers by writing with kindness, generosity, and humility toward them." Thank you, Mr. Kooser!

The Writer magazine's Poet to Poet column is good for monthly inspiration.

• It is always interesting for me to read about other author's thoughts. I enjoy reading the acceptance speeches of Nobel Prize winners at The Nobel Prize in Literature, many of which are poets (like Seamus Heaney and Pablo Neruda). Also, as I talked about before, writers' journals or diaries give great insight into the creation of great works. One only has to read a few entries in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath to see how a writer struggles to find the right word.

• It goes without saying: Read! Find poems you connect with. See previous two posts.

• Finally, inspiration often comes from experience and self-knowledge. I am a visual person and can be stirred by seeing a simple picture in a magazine. Seek out opportunities that move you.

If you do end up writing a poem after these posts, let me know. I may just publish it on this site!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I too found Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand a helpful guide to writing poetry. It’s very accessible, and I like how Kowit organized the book, with most chapters focusing on a particular technique, form or theme.

Marilyn Taylor similarly explores one aspect of poetry and offers examples to illustrate a given concept in her Poet to Poet column in The Writer magazine.

She covers the sestina in the June issue and offers a handy cheat-sheet for writing a sestina here:

(You must be a registered user to access the cheat-sheet, but registration is free and easy; simply follow the prompt to create a free account.)

Sarah Lange, associate editor of The Writer