TOOLS OF THE TRADE
The number of books available on the craft of poetry are legion. I’ve listed four of my favourites—two dealing with the practical points of craft and two others diving into the sources of inspiration.
Jerome, Judson: The Poet’s Handbook. Writer’s Digest Book, 1980
A basic poetry handbook that answers the questions raised by beginning poets, this book was the first one I read on the craft of poetry. Years later it still stands as a first-rate primer. In Jerome’s book I found a manifesto of the type of poetry I intended to write:
“In addition to its musical, rhythmical, emotional, and other colourful characteristics, language has a primary function in human affairs of conveying meaning. …. Readers generally want to understand what they read. They think of language primarily in terms of meaning. They want it to make sense. [As a poet] learn to reach the reader’s subconscious with your art, but keep their consciousness in mind.” Amen!
Riccio, Ottone M.: The Intimate Art of Writing Poetry. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1980.
Another book for the beginning poet and a resource to revisit time and again. Excellent for the poet starting out with no access to group support. Many group poetry classes focus on critiquing poems and never spend any time discussing the actual craft. This book is a superb complement to such classes.
"You [the poet] deal in specifics and stay far from abstractions. .... Be honest in your verbal expression. And use the simplest, the clearest, the least fancy words that will do the job. Poetry is not beautiful language but language beautifully employed."
Raine, Kathleen: The Inner Journey of the Poet. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1982
This book is definitely not a poetry primer; rather it is a collection of essays by the poet and scholar, Kathleen Raine, that lays out her views of poetry and the arts as vehicles of spiritual knowledge.
She discredits the premises of naive materialism and how it neglects meaning and imagination. In the title essay, The Inner Journey of the Poet she follows the theme of the inner journey in the imaginative poetry of mankind (Dante, Plato, Yeats) to see what we can learn from them.
Her other essays describe aspects of poetry as the language of the soul, the language of spiritual intuition, and knowledge. I return again and again to Raine’s essays to remind myself what I’m trying to do with my poetry.
Revell, Donald: The Art of Attent!on: A Poet’s Eye. Greywolf Press, 2007.
A unique book on how to properly pay attention to the world about us, to trust our eye to lead us to the poem.
According to Revell, “A poem has nothing to do with picking and choosing, with the mot juste and reflection in tranquility. It is a plain record of one’s entire presence. … I improve my poem by opening my eyes a little wider for a little while longer.”
So many aspects of paying attention are touched on. This book left my imagination spinning with possibilities. A partner book also published by Graywolf Press is The Art of the Poetic Line, 2008.