A Poetry Handbook Paperback – Jan 12 2001
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
If you are reading this review then chances are that you want to become a better poet and could benefit from a comparison of the books listed above. Here is mine.
A Poetry Handbook – I am glad I have this book in my life. It gives me Mary Oliver whose character seems to inspire on its own. I don't think I will be re-reading it any time soon but, looking back at some of the choices that I've made since I've read it, I can say that it has already changed my life in very concrete ways. The greatest lesson here is that poetry is a relationship and requires deep commitment. This book is a must.
Creating Poetry – if this was the only resource for poetry-writing technique, it would be sufficient. However, it is downright boring compared to all the other books listed here. Maybe its great, but I didn't feel like reading most of it when I had so many more engaging books to choose from.
In the palm of your hand – this is the book that I would recommend to the beginner. It goes over a lot of important technical territory in an engaging and entertaining way. There is a section on 'bad poetry' and another on 'revision' – all aspiring poets should read these. Also, the poems given as examples inspire.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
A wonderful invitation to read, understand, and write poetry by a master poet: I highly recommend this book.Published 6 months ago by anon
Accurate but basic: more helpful for those wanting to read more poetry than for those wanting to write.Published 13 months ago by Robert Campbell
A very interesting approach to poetry, with its emphasis on sound. Mary Oliver is a gift to the world in so many ways. Read morePublished 13 months ago by carolyn mayers
This is such a wonderful book for people who like to write and learn about poetry. I really recommend it to students who are interested. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Christina Montecristo
A Poetry Handbook -- I cannot say whether this really is a handbook about poetry, or if it is more an essay of the author's opinion on writing poetry. Read morePublished on June 6 2012 by Ryan
I purchased this book for a class and did not use it until I was at a moment of desperation. The contents were so very useful. Read morePublished on Dec 12 2002 by Michael Lopez
With _A Poetry Handbook_, Mary Oliver does for poetry what Strunk and White did for prose. This book is elementary, not in the sense of being remedial, but as a clear introduction... Read morePublished on Nov. 26 2002 by R. Peake
What Oliver manages to do is speak to both the experienced and just-initiated poets. While I've been writing poetry since grade school, I wouldn't truly consider my poet as before... Read morePublished on April 19 2002 by John Cantu
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