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A Poetry Handbook [Paperback]

Mary Oliver
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 19.00
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2001
With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). Index.

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From Amazon

This slender guide by Mary Oliver deserves a place on the shelves of any budding poet. In clear, accessible prose, Oliver (winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for poetry) arms the reader with an understanding of the technical aspects of poetry writing. Her lessons on sound, line (length, meter, breaks), poetic forms (and lack thereof), tone, imagery, and revision are illustrated by a handful of wonderful poems (too bad Oliver was so modest as to not include her own). What could have been a dry account is infused throughout with Oliver's passion for her subject, which she describes as "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." One comes away from this volume feeling both empowered and daunted. Writing poetry is good, hard work.

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Award winner Oliver ( New and Selected Poems ) delivers with uncommon concision and good sense that paradoxical thing: a prose guide to writing poetry. Her discussion may be of equal interest to poetry readers and beginning or experienced writers. She's neither a romantic nor a mechanic, but someone who has observed poems and their writing closely and who writes with unassuming authority about the work she and others do, interspersing history and analysis with exemplary poems (the poets include James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore and Walt Whitman). Divided into short chapters on sound, the line, imagery, tone, received forms and free verse, the book also considers the need for revision (an Oliver poem typically passes through 40 or 50 drafts before it is done) and the pros and cons of writing workshops. And though her prose is wisely spare, a reader also falls gladly on signs of a poet: "Who knows anyway what it is, that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live?" or "Poems begin in experience, but poems are not in fact experience . . . they exist in order to be poems."
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid text for readers and writers May 20 2002
Format:Paperback
"A Poetry Handbook," by Mary Oliver, is a nonfiction prose text about the art of writing poetry. In the book Oliver, herself an excellent poet, gives a clear and painless introduction to some structural aspects of poetry. She defines many technical terms: alliteration, onomatopoeia, alexandrine, caesura, quatrain, persona, etc. She also discusses various poetic forms: sonnet, free verse, etc. Other topics addressed include imagery and diction. Throughout the book, Oliver illustrates her points with poetry by some of the greatest practitioners of the craft: Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, etc.
The book is aimed at both readers and writers of poetry. For the latter, Oliver reflects on such practical issues as revision and participation in poetry workshops. The book reflects Oliver's own philosophy of poetry. She stresses that poetry is a craft that requires work and discipline, and encourages the reader to think of poets as constituting a "tribe" that transcends all geographic and cultural boundaries.
The book is not without flaws. I found it quite Eurocentric; she never discusses the haiku, a Japanese verse form that has been embraced by many in the English-speaking world. Other non-Western forms are similarly neglected.
Some of her opinionated pronouncements also seem open to debate. She notes that a poem "gives pleasure through the authority and sweetness of the language," but I think some poems are effective conduits of rage or outrage and make use of unpleasant language to shake up the reader. Regarding the revision process, she notes that sometimes "it is simply best to throw a poem away" -- but, I ask, who is to make that decision?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mary's Gift She Was Afraid to Give Sept. 6 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Sitting at a picnic table, I was given a book on poetry writing by Mary Oliver. I carried it around like a candy bar, taking bites of its peanuts in chocolate words about words. She states that she was afraid to write it because she loved the subject too much. Yet what a gift of love she has given. And what more do we have to give, or does Mary for that matter, than the words we are afraid to say? Thank you Mary.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an inspiring guide to writing poetry Dec 31 1997
Format:Paperback
Mary Oliver's poetry itself can do some teaching on its own, but we can be grateful she's chosen to articulate the writing process so richly in this book. The book will almost certainly will wring some writing out of you; it will also inspire you to examine your work habits and technique. Oliver's intelligence shines through, and will make you a better reader of poetry. Small note on the previous review: Mary Oliver does, indeed, teach, at Bennington College currently. If you can't enroll there, this book is your next best choice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Small Treasure March 12 2000
Format:Paperback
It's a small treasure for those who are about to embark on the arduous and mysterious journey of writing poetry. Her prose is as lyrical as her poetry, as she teaches about the essence of this magical process.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best short book for writers of poetry Jan. 29 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Mary Oliver chose to avoid teaching so she could concentrate on her poetry. Too bad for students. Here, however, she gives students and accomplished poets alike a sensible and sensitive handbook that conveys not only the craft of poetry but its power, its mystery, and its magic. Readers who say they don't like poetry should give Oliver a chance to change their minds and hearts
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5.0 out of 5 stars The poet's craft and art July 14 2001
Format:Paperback
What can be said a book about poetry by the world's greatest living poetess? Besides learning about poetry we come to appreciate how much tradition, thought, work, rewriting goes into Mary Oliver's sublime poetry. Imagine if Shakespeare or Milton were to write a book on how poems are written and created?
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