by Ron Hayes
Hello dear readers and Happy April! Once again Eliot’s “cruellest month” is upon us and I couldn’t be happier. We have a tremendous National Poetry Month planned for you here at 5writers.com. Let’s get to it!
One of the oldest adages in writing is to write what you know. While I take great pride (and a good bit of solace) in knowing that there is so much that I simply don’t know, I take even greater pride in knowing that poetry is an underappreciated source of joy and strength for us in these troubled times. It is a force of magic whose grandeur and wisdom seems to stand stoically in the recesses of modernity just waiting to be remembered, invoked, pressed into service by the masses of us in need of meaning, and appreciated, ultimately, if even only fleetingly. I know that the application of poetry as a balm to the infringing madness of our daily lives can do wonders for our souls, and I know that the rendering of lines into stanzas and stanzas into whole poems is potent medicine for our hearts and minds alike. I know this because I am a poet.
I am also a teacher. I know about things like pedagogy and classroom management and curriculum maps and metrics. As a teacher, I have fierce opinions about what we should be teaching and how we should be teaching it, but I also know that, as a teacher, the ferocity of my opinions means exactly squat to the powers that be who tell us what to teach and, sometimes even, how to teach it. And I got to thinking that the intersection of poetry and education might be an interesting thing to explore.
Therefore, over the next four weeks or so I’ll be bringing you a two-pronged look at Poetry and Education in our time. First, the good stuff: for the next thirty days I’ll offer you thirty books on the craft of writing poetry. I’ve asked some good friends and fellow poets to share with us what they feel are great tools for poets interested in honing their craft. The first five books are posted below.
The second prong will come in the form of four short essays on the State of Education in Our Schools. I’m blessed to know educators from across the country and I’ve tapped them as a collective resource for a far-ranging, informal look at how poetry holds up these days in the classroom. That first report will come in our next post.
So bring on National Poetry Month 2016! To kick things off, I am beyond pleased and truly honored to bring you my good friend David Locke with the first five books we recommend to help you understand and navigate the craft of poetry. Please enjoy.
30 Books In 30 Days: The Craft of Poetry
April 1-5 by David Locke
Theodore Roethke, On Poetry & Craft
Along with a poignant foreword by Carolyn Kizer, the book is broken into four equally instructive and compelling parts (with an additional Epilogue and Appendix). I appreciated Roethke’s poetry long before I discovered this book; nevertheless; I admire his willingness to think fully and deeply about the craft of writing and to share those thoughts with us. For those interested—or currently employed—in teaching creative writing, he offers pragmatic advice for how to direct a class. Aside from the essays, there are also multiple sections of pithy personal truisms Roethke wrote and collected. Among my favorites:
“Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.” (p. 83)
“It’s your privilege to find me incomprehensible. I gave you my minutes; let them remain ours. I hope I haunt you.” (p. 96)
“Not the boring moments, the small gratifications, but the struggle where we become something more than shadows.” (p. 115)
“All the charm of a doorknob in a public toilet.” (p. 125)
If this small sample does not inspire you to action, to acquiring and devouring a copy of this book posthaste, then nothing I say will.
Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual
Featuring practical advice for dilettantes as well as useful reminders for more experienced poets, this book starts you along the path toward vigilant writing and assiduous revision. From the first sentence, Kooser urges aspiring poets to dedicate themselves to “self-education.” Later, he humorously explains the two types of poets: those dressing the part and those sitting alone somewhere actually writing. Although no amount of advice can eliminate the time and hard work required by the writing process, this book will at least teach you to enjoy revising your work in Chapters 10 “Controlling Effects” and 11 “Fine Tuning Metaphors and Similes.” Plus, how can you not love a book with a chapter titled: “Rhyming, Ham Cubes, Prose Poems”?
Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form
For many people, the word “Meter” in any context induces clammy palms and a bone in their throats; still, to evolve as a poet, you need a solid foundation in the fundamentals which only a study of meter will provide. The book is structured in two parts. Part one contains six total chapters, five of which focus on meter, but the fifth chapter examines the various conventions of free verse and provides a respite from some of the more erudite nomenclature. Part two ventures into the realm of poetic form, primarily the domains of the sonnet and the use of stanzas in English poetry. Of the technical books I have encountered on prosody, this is the most readable.
John Frederick Nims and David Mason, Western Wind
At 688 pages, this book contains material enough for a year’s worth of meticulous study. The editors organized it in six parts: 1) The Senses, 2) The Emotions, 3) The Words, 4) The Sounds, 5) The Rhythms, and 6) The Mind. If you do nothing else this week, read Chapter 7, “Gold in the Ore: The Sounds of English” because it forever altered my perspective on the use of sound in poetry. Along with myriad examples of the sounds in action, the authors provide a loose musical scale for vowels (as bass, tenor, or alto), and detailed descriptions of consonants’ distinct characteristics.
David Kirby, Writing Poetry
I stumbled upon this book in a serendipitous moment at work while browsing the shelves. Compared to the typical instruction book, this one contains a relatively small page count (103, if you include the glossary), yet Kirby compresses a sizeable quantity of profound advice into this diminutive container. The book is broken into three sections: I) What is Poetry?, II) How to Write a Poem, and III) The Poet’s Toolbox. In part two, he discusses fourteen noteworthy rules for writing poems then discusses six basic poem types at length: 1) Lists, 2) Marriages, 3) Reversals, 4) Speeches, Letters, Prayers, 5) Stories, and 6) Forms. For anyone staring at a blank page or avoiding pages altogether, Kirby’s advice on escaping the dreaded writer’s block is a must read.
David Locke received his BA from Louisiana State University as a double major in English and History in 2005. While working full-time at the Carver branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Library, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Currently, he works (and writes when possible) in the library at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He owes an eternal debt of gratitude to his amazing wife for tolerating him as he pursues an MLIS from the University of North Texas.