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- Published on Amazon.com
This is a very good book, an inspiration to all aspiring poets and even to writers in general. In easy-to-read, humorous accounts of his life as a child, a student, and a professor of poetry, Skinner summarizes the "6.5" practices of, as he calls them, "moderately successful poets." That is: not geniuses, not off-the-scale talent, but ordinary people who, if they have a poetry flame inside, can nurture it and live by it. The 6.5 practices range from the first (and possibly the most important), which can be summarized as Protect Your Talent, to the last, Take the Long View.
Each of the practices Skinner lists is of great importance to a writer, and each is presented in such a casual, just-talking kind of manner that the truth of what the author says shines through. His anecdotes, particularly the ones from his days as a security guard, are interesting and intriguing, even. But they're also a bit frustrating to read because in a few cases it seems as if more, not less, is called for. In the chapter on Makes Use, for example, we're given the story of Bobby the Ape (a man, not an ape), and although the story seems unrelated to anything that came before in the book or anything that comes after, it's clear that the story must be there as an example of a poet "making use" of everything that has happened to him or her, everything he or she has experienced. While as a reader I can intellectually understand that Jeffrey Skinner must have made use of the experience of knowing Bobby the Ape, I as a reader also yearn to see an example of HOW he made use of this material. Was it in an entire poem? A stanza? A line? A word choice, even? Surely the writer knows how he made use of it, else how could he put it in the book as an example of making use? In general, I think this book would be even better it it contained some poetry in addition to the one poem by Thomas Hardy that it does contain, and if that poetry illustrated the point the author was making.
My other complaint about the book is that a little bit of the author's humorous sidebars (letters to the editor, Pre-MFA Quiz) goes a long way. These sidebars are so long that they cease being funny and seem to exist only to give the book more pages.
But my objections are minor in comparison to the worth of the book. If you are a poet and need inspiration to continue writing poetry, read this book. If you're a writer with whom the world is too much late and soon, and need to know that others have trod the writing path and can point out the serpentine trails, the box canyons, the quiet brooks, and the resting places, read this book -- you will welcome it as a thirsty traveler welcomes water.