Book Reviews, Poetry, Poetry Friday

Black Friday wish list for poets

It’s Black Friday. For me here in Canada, that term was meaningless for most of my life. When I first heard it, I thought it had something to do with a particularly unlucky Friday the 13th or something.

Of course those innocent days are gone. Black Friday disease has crossed the border, and even though we celebrated Thanksgiving weeks ago, with the U.S. Black Friday sales competing for our dollars, local merchants have got on the Black Friday bandwagon with a vengeance.

So, with the theme of shopping in mind, I’m putting up a list of books that you or your fellow poets might appreciate in your stockings. Keep your eyes peeled for  these in your Black Friday (and Saturday and Sunday…) shopping. (Though many of these are a few years old, they’re as valuable as ever. I know. I own every one of them and refer to them often.)

Writing The Natural Way - RicoWhatever you write you’ve probably heard of clustering (also called webbing, word webs, semantic mapping, mind mapping etc.). Gabriele Rico, a pioneer of this method of generating ideas,  begins by explaining how to cluster and how it works in terms of brain physiology. She shows how clustering helps writers access unexpected personal material and suggests lots of exercises. The book includes chapters on image, voice, creating tension, and revision. The many quotes about creativity and the writing life (found in the wide margins of this 9 x 71/2-inch paperback) are another feature that make it a treasure.

  • Creating Poetry by John Drury, 1991 (hardback – re-released in paperback, 2006).Creating Poetry - John Drury

You’ll never run out of poem-writing ideas if you have this book. The great thing is that it also doubles as a tutor. The introduction explains, “This book is organized sequentially according to the process of writing – or rather the process of learning to write, which amounts to the same thing – beginning with “Preparing” and ending with “Finishing.”

Poets Companion - Addonizio & LauxA great little book that combines instruction with inspiration and prompts. It’s available in Kindle format too.

In this value-packed volume, Mary Oliver talks about how to court the muse, read poems, and make the most of the science of sound. Maybe ‘science’ is too technical a word, but I did learn a lot about how the different sounds of our letters affect us and help or hinder our poems. What amazed me was to see how much technique and thought (she talks about the line, forms, diction, tone, voice, imagery, and revision) goes into Oliver’s poems—poems that come out sounding as effortless as breathing.

Poetry Home Repair Manual - Ted KooserThe U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 – 2006 authored this slim paperback. If Kooser’s poetry is noted for anything it is accessibility and this book is his manifesto on why poetry should be accessible and how to write understandable poems.

He discusses topics like what it means to be a poet, how to entice readers to read your poems, how to avoid distracting the reader with the physical look of your work, using figures of speech and more. Along with wisdom gained from years of writing, Kooser dispenses encouragement, inspiration and just plain common sense. You’ll also enjoy the poetry sprinkled throughout this practical and understandable manual.

From “ABECEDARIUM” to “WORD” this handy book will help you stay in the know about almost any poetic term literature can throw at you. Three hundred fifty three pages of entries – which include pronunciations, definitions and over 250 illustrative poems from Homer to the present – are supplemented with an index of poets and poems, and an index of terms. This handy reference is as good for finding inspiration as boning up on the poetic terms you’re curious about or have never heard before.

Art & Craft of Poetry - BugejaThis excellent instruction-cum-reference book is written by a seasoned college teacher and published poet. In twenty-one chapters Bugeja talks about the entire poetic process from getting ideas to getting published. Each chapter comes complete with writing instruction, its own mini-anthology and a set of exercises for three levels (so you can make three passes through the book). You will not go through this book even once without amassing a fat portfolio of poems and a well-rounded understanding of poetry from traditional to contemporary. This oldie but goodie is now also available in a Kindle edition.

If you’re a poet who wants to master traditional forms this book, written by a seasoned poet, author, editor and teacher, is for you. In it you’ll find chapters explaining meter, the quatrain, couplet, sonnet, tercet, blank verse, French forms and more.

Baer explains things in a step-by-step way and uses classic and contemporary poetry to illustrate his points. He includes short practice exercises as well as twelve formal assignments. The appendix contains several essays about the history of poetry (including one about the formalist movement), a nine-page section of quotes about meter, form and rhyme, and a helpful index. This book is a must-have for poets in love with rhythm and rhyme.

Poet Power - WilliamsIf you want ideas about what to do with your poems besides warehousing them in file drawers, this is the book for you. Williams addresses subjects like the business of poetry, secrets of publishable poems, how to submit to magazines, self-publish, organize readings, publicize, and then sell your books. Williams’ enthusiasm and motivational writing style may well transform you from a poetic wallflower to a poetry entrepreneur who becomes a mover and shaker in your literary circle.

Happy Shopping!

(Updated from an article originally published in September 2009  as “Assigned Reading for Poets”  in Poets Classroom at

This post is submitted to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the multi-talented Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

12 thoughts on “Black Friday wish list for poets”

    1. Most welcome. I’m a writing how-to junkie! Love these kinds of books. (Maybe it’s because when I read them, I feel like I’m actually doing what they tell me…).


  1. Such a wonderful list you have here, I am positively drooling. I have to get my hands on the Mary Oliver book! I simply love her, and I so want to know more about the ‘science’ of poetry – sculpting those lines, toning that verse, whipping the words into submission. 🙂


    1. Myra, you will love that book! Here is one of my favorite quotes:

      “If Romeo and Juliet had made appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet … there would have been no romance…. Writing a poem is not so different–it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them; count on it, nothing happens.” p. 7.


  2. As a public librarian, I have the great pleasure of ordering books with other people’s money! I’ll use your list to beef up our poetry section. Many thanks!


  3. Too funny–I’m planning to share how-to poetry books over the next several weeks too. The gift we can all give ourselves! I love some of these same ones you’ve listed!


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