Interesting Literature

Five of the Best Books about Studying Poetry

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

If you’re studying poetry at school or university, or are simply a fan of the world of verse, it’s useful to have some handy guides standing by to assist with the terminology and to shed light on the various poetic forms used by poets, and the sometimes challenging language of poetry.

In our experience, the following five books are among the greatest books for the student of poetry (though there are, needless to say, many more helpful books on the market) and all five books will help the poetry fan to understand and appreciate poetry to a greater degree.

Disclaimer: as an Amazon Associate, we get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Subtitled  A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism , this book – which was updated for a second edition in 2005 – is a wonderfully clear and comprehensive introduction to the appreciation of poetry. John Lennard shows how we can enjoy poetry by understanding its technical features and techniques: his epigraph, from C. L. R. James, suggests a parallel between appreciating cricket and appreciating poetry.

If we know nothing of the technical aspects of the game of cricket, we can still enjoy it, but if we understand how the game works and what techniques the players use, we can ground our enjoyment in something more specific and informed than ‘mere impressionism’. Invaluable for any student of poetry at university (and very helpful for those at school), but also useful for anyone who wishes to understand the rules of metre, rhyme, syntax, and form in more depth.

This is a highly readable introduction to the practice of literary criticism: how to analyse a poem . Padel considers 52 different poems and offers a close reading of them, beautifully bringing out the subtle meanings of the poetry and the ways in which the poet generates such meanings.

Christopher Ricks,  The Force of Poetry .

This 1984 volume is a collection of essays written during the 1960s-1980s, by one of the greatest living critics of poetry. Upon reading Ricks’s biography of Tennyson, W. H. Auden called Ricks ‘exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding’.

But Ricks is also a brilliant writer too, with a fondness (some would say weakness) for puns and wordplay of all kinds. He clearly has great fun pondering the significance of a semi-colon or set of parentheses, or the meaning of a particular image or word. This volume includes essays on, among others, medieval poet John Gower , John Milton, Samuel Johnson , Geoffrey Hill, Stevie Smith, and – indeed, William Empson, author of our next book recommendation.

William Empson (1906-1984) was a poet as well as a critic, and this probably helped him to get under the skin, as it were, of many of the poems he analyses in this pioneering work of poetry criticism, published in 1930 and written when he was still only in his early twenties (and completed shortly after he had been expelled from the University of Cambridge when contraceptives were found in his rooms).

Taking his examples from Geoffrey Chaucer as well as T. S. Eliot, Empson wittily examines the various ways in which poets generate ambiguity in their work, from simple examples to more complex and less easily resolved instances. Jonathan Bate called Empson the funniest critic of the twentieth century . He is also one of the most illuminating.

This book is aimed at those who want to understand how poetry works but also want to write it as well, and Fry is an amiable and informative guide, taking us through the various forms and stylistic features poets use. Despite its focus on such things, the book is never dry and manages to inform and educate as well as entertain.

So much for our five recommendations, which we think should adorn the bookshelf of any poetry fan. But have you got an alternative recommendation for ‘best introduction to poetry’ or ‘greatest books for the student of poetry’? If so, let us know – we realise this list of five books is hardly comprehensive, but merely a whistle-stop introduction to what’s out there.

For more poetry help, see our advice for the close reading of poetry and our English literature essay tips . For the word-lover, we recommend this little-known dictionary of weird and wonderful words .

books of essays and poetry

4 thoughts on “Five of the Best Books about Studying Poetry”

Add “How Does a Poem Mean?” by poet and critic (and lover of odd words) John Ciardi.

I’m a fan of John Hollander’s RHYME’S REASON, too. In it he details how to write in a bunch of different classic poetic forms — in those poetic forms. Very entertaining.

Reblogged this on Recommended book and blog news, poetry and tarot inspiration and commented: Glad Stephen Fry was included, this book is the definitive introduction to both common and obscure verse forms and should be on every aspiring poets shelf or those who just love the art

Reblogged this on nativemericangirl's Blog .

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60+ Best Poetry Books of All Time

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Blog – Posted on Friday, Oct 11

60+ best poetry books of all time.

60+ Best Poetry Books of All Time

Poetry is an art form that predates written text. It fuses meaning, sound, and rhythm to create magical worlds that offer insights into ourselves – and into the unknown. Since it’s taken to the page, poets have even been able to play with how it looks, using word placement to add yet another layer of meaning. The form almost defies definition, but we know we tend to look to it when we need a little inspiration, to light that spark that only the best poetry knows how to ignite 🔥

If you’re feeling the urge to jump into the world of poetry books, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled a list of collections that should satisfy the breadth and width of most poetic imaginations, from the traditional to the avant-garde. It includes what some consider the best poetry books of all time , alongside lesser-known but equally breathtaking compilations.

Some of the poetry books below are individual collections, while others offer an overview of a certain poet’s work. And then there are anthologies that gather groups of similar poets for closer reflection. Spanning many countries, languages, and time periods, the list below will have you perfectly primed for the endless possibilities that poetry has to offer.

Psst — if you've ever wondered which 20-second poem you can recite while washing your hands, take our quiz below 😉

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Best Poetry Book Classics

1. the complete poems of emily dickinson by emily dickinson (1830–1886).

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “'Hope' is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all –”

2. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, Translated by Anne Carson (Died 580 BC)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Come to me now: loose me from hard / care and all my heart longs / to accomplish, accomplish. You / be my ally.”

3. The Rumi Collection by Rumi (1207–1273), Translated by Kabir Helminski

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “You know the true value of every article of / merchandise, / but if you don’t know the value of your own soul, / it’s all foolishness.”

4. On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho by Basho (1644–1694), Translated by Lucien Stark

Basho was not only a 17th-century Japanese haiku master —  he was also a Buddhist monk and traveler. He engaged with natural imagery to create his well-known haikus and even his pen name — writing under Basho after being gifted basho trees from a student. On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho , translates and refines Basho’s work. It also contextualizes it with a foreword by the translator, Lucien Stark, discussing how Basho’s life and beliefs influenced his poetry.

Excerpt: “Spring’s exodus — / birds shriek, / fish eyes blink tears”

5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “How I came to it I cannot rightly say,/so drugged and loose with sleep I had become/when I first wandered there/from the True Way.”

6. The Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: " So they lov'd, as love in twain / Had the essence but in one; / Two distincts, division none: / Number there in love was slain.”

7. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, / O I say now these are the soul!”

8. John Donne’s Poetry by John Donne (1572–1631)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; / For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow / Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

9. Complete Writings by Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “But here I sit, and mourn a grov’ling mind, / That fain would mount, and ride upon the wind. / But I less happy, cannot raise the song, / The fault’ring music dies upon my tongue.”

10. The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Nature is a temple, where the living / Columns sometimes breathe confusing speech; / Man walks within these groves of symbols, each / Of which regards him as a kindred thing.”

11. The Complete Poetry Of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore — / While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, / As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

Best 20th-Century Poetry

12. robert frost’s poems by robert frost (1874–1963).

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, / That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, / And spills the upper boulders in the sun; / And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

13. 100 Selected Poems by e e cummings (1894–1962)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “when the world is puddle-wonderful / the queer / old balloonman whistles / far and wee / and bettyandisable come dancing / from hop-scotch and jump-rope and / it’s / spring”

14. Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (1935–2019)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “The vulture’s / wings are / black death / color but / the underwings / as sunlight / flushes into / the feathers / are bright / are swamped/with light.”

15. The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise”

16. Migration: New and Selected Poems by W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “I want to tell what the forests / were like / I will have to speak / in a forgotten language”

17. Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara (1926–1966)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “ there is no snow in Hollywood / there is no rain in California / I have been to lots of parties / and acted perfectly disgraceful / but I never actually collapsed / oh Lana Turner we love you get up”

18. Selected Poems by Langston Hughes (1901–1967)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “O, sweep of stars over Harlem streets / O, little breath of oblivion that is night. / A city building / to a mother’s song. / A city dreaming / to a lullaby.” 

19. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / and eat men like air”  

20. The Collected Poems by Audre Lorde (1934–1992)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “But if it’s said / at some future date / that my son’s head / is on straight / he won’t care / about his / hair / nor give a damn / whose wife / I am.”  

21. Diving Into The Wreck by Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: "I came to explore the wreck. / The words are purposes. / The words are maps. / I came to see the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail."

22. The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (Bilingual Edition ) by Pablo Neruda (1904 -1973)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Leaning into the evenings I toss my sad nets / to that sea which stirs your ocean eyes.” 

23. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “We real cool. We / Left school. We / Lurk late. We / Strike straight. We / Sing sin. We / Thin gin. We / Jazz June. We / Die soon.”

24. I Remember by Joe Brainard (1941-1994)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “I remember “close dancing” with arms dangling straight down. / I remember red rubber coin purses / that opened like a pair of lips, with a squeeze.”

25. Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: "In my sixty-fourth year / I can feel my cheek / still burning."

26. The Collected Poems 1912-1944 by H.D. (1886–1961)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “O poplar, you are great/among the hillstones, / while I perish on the path / among the crevices of the rocks.”

27. The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “My candle burns at both ends / it will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / it gives a lovely light!”

28. The Selected Poems by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898–1937)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Is this my friend, your twilight constitutional? / Please use your cane,’you are very old Mr. Lizard, / and the children of the village / may startle you.”

29 . The Dream Songs by John Berryman (1914-1972)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag / and somehow a dog/has taken itself & its tail considerably away / into mountains or sea / or sky, leaving / behind: me, wag.”

30. S.O.S. Poems 1961-2013 by Amiri Baraka (1934-2013)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt : “We came into the / silly little church / shaking our wet raincoats / on the floor. / It wasn’t water, / that made the raincoats / wet.”

31. Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova, translated by D.M. Thomas (1889-1966)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “And with you, my first vagary, / I partend. In the east it turned blue. / You said simply: ‘I won’t forget you.’ / I didn’t know at first what you could mean.”

32. Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English Edition by Paul Celan (1920-1970), Translated by Paul Hamburger

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: "Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown / we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night / we drink and we drink it / we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined" 

33. A Little Larger Than The Entire Universe: Selected Poems by Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “I believe in the word as in a daisy, / Because I see it. But I don’t think about it, / Because to think is to not understand.”

34 . The Complete Poems by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster. / Lose something every day. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. / The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”

35. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery (1927–2017)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “A breeze like the turning of a page / Brings back your face: the moment / Takes such a big bite out of the haze / Of pleasant intuition it comes after.”

Best Poetry Books By Living Writers

36. citizen: an american lyric by claudia rankine (1963–).

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says no, it’s not him. He’s met your friend and this isn’t that nice young man. Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police.”

37. A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon by CA Conrad (1966–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “is it time to become unreasonable? / yes it’s time to become unreasonable!”

38. Felt by Alice Fulton (1952–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “She dismantled ground and figure / till the fathoms were ambiguous — / a sentence left unfinished / because everyone knows what’s meant,”

39. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “does it matter how he got here if we’re all here / to dance? grab a boy! spin him around! / if he asks for a kiss, kiss him. / if he asks where he is, say gone”

40. Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (1974–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “ And that’s how you feel after tumbling / like sea stars on the ocean floor over each other. / A night where it doesn’t matter / which are arms or which are legs / or what radiates and how — / only your centers stuck together.”

41. Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (1988–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Your father is only your father / until one of you forgets. Like how the spine / won’t remember its wings / no matter how many times our knees / kiss the pavement.”

42. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker (1988 –)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “What kind of bodies are movable / and feasts. What color are visions / When he opens his mouth / a chameleon is inside, starving.”

43. Life On Mars by Tracy K. Smith (1972–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “ You lie there kicking like a baby, waiting for God himself / To lift you past the rungs of your crib. What / Would your life say if it could talk?”

44. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (1950 –)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Geryon’s dream began red then slipped out of the vat and ran / Upsail broke silver shot up through his roots like a pup / Secret pup At the front end of another red day”

45. All The Garbage Of The World Unite! By Kim Kyesoon (1955–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “ Have you ever swallowed a tornado? / A tornado is supposed to be swallowed / through your backbone / My body flips over / my hair becomes as stiff as frozen laundry / and I feel goose bumps down my backbone”

46. Words Under The Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 –)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: "What makes a man with a gun seem bigger / than a man with almonds?”

47. bury it by sam sax (1986–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “I only want the world / to end when I’m done / with it”

48. A Sand Book by Ariana Reienes (1982 – )

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “They taught us the world / Was ending but they were wrong / They hardly taught us anything / Hiding themselves / In the cantaloupe / Light at the witching / Hour.”

49. Picture Bride by Cathy Song (1955–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Wahiawa is still / a red dirt town/ where the sticky smell / of pineapples / being lopped off/ in the low-lying fields / rises to mix /with the minty leaves / of eucalyptus/ in the bordering gulch.”

50. When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Angels don’t come to the reservation./Bats, maybe, or owls. Boxy mottled things. /  Coyotes too. They all mean the same thing —  / death. And death/eats angels I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel/fly through this valley ever.”

51. The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley (1945–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: ““One day, I awoke” “& found myself on” “a subway, endlessly” / “I didn’t know” “how I’d arrived there or” “who I was exactly””

52. Sleeping with the Dictionary by Haryette Mullen (1953–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: You are a U-boat beyond my mind control / You are euthanasia beyond my miasma / You are a urethra beyond my Mysore.”

53. Hanging On Our Own Bones by Judy Grahn (1940–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “ We were driving home slow, my lover and I / across the long Bay Bridge / one February midnight when midway / over in the far left lane, I saw a strange scene.”

54. A Bernadette Mayer Reader by Bernadette Mayer (1945–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “Nowadays you guys settle for a couch / By a soporific color cable t.v. set / Instead of any arc of love, no wonder / The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time”

55. Neon Vernacular: New And Selected Poems  by Yusef Komunyakaa (1947–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “That’s the oak I planted / The day before I left town / As if father and son / Needed staking down to earth.”

56. Selected Poems by Rita Dove (1952 –)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “I was ill, lying on my bed of old papers / when you came with white rabbits in your arms; / and the doves scattered upwards, flying to mothers / and the snails sighed under their baggage of stone…”

57. Half Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart (1939–)

books of essays and poetry

Excerpt: “The love I’ve known is the love of / two people staring/ not at each other but in the same direction.” 

Best Poetry Anthologies

58. sing: poetry from the indigenous americas edited by allison adelle hedge coke.

books of essays and poetry

59. Gurlesque edited by Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg

books of essays and poetry

60. The Norton Anthology of Poetry edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy

books of essays and poetry

61. The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall

books of essays and poetry

Looking for other types of collections to sink your teeth into? Check out these must-read short story compilations.

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Learning | Poetry | 2023-05

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9 Essential Writing Books for Any Poet

If you’re looking to improve your craft, reading is just as important as writing. While reading poetry collections can teach you plenty, it’s also important to hear from poets themselves. Those ready to get into the nitty-gritty may just find that books about craft are as entertaining as they are informative. To help you find a great place to start, we’ve created a list of 9 essential books for poets and writers. 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

One of the most famous writing guides of all time, Lamott’s Bird by Bird provides wry, down-to-earth advice for writers of all ages and abilities. From writers’ block to finding your voice to the ups and downs of publishing, there’s something in here for everyone. 

The Practicing Poet by Diane Lockward

If you’re ready to push beyond the basics in your poetry practice, The Practicing Poet is the guidebook for you. Split into 10 neat sections, the book offers 30 brief craft essays paired with a model poem and an analysis of it. Lockward’s dissection of each poem and what makes it tick provides readers with clear instructions on building their own intricate, beautiful poems. 

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

If you’re in the market for sound advice, clear writing, and concision, Zinsser is your man. Though the book is not written specifically for poets, On Writing Well provides guidelines for improvement throughout your writing (from emails to memoirs to, yes, even your poems). He also includes pages of the original manuscript to show what’s been cut, giving readers the courage to be bold and ruthless when boiling works down to the essentials only. 

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Take a peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of the wisdom, experience, and excitement that award-winning author Ray Bradbury brings to the page. Pulling from a lifetime of writing, Bradbury offers practical tips on the craft of writing—from finding original ideas to developing your voice, and beyond.

Writing Poetry to Save Your Life by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

A combination of author Gillan’s personal story and advice for writers in all stages of development, Writing Poetry to Save Your Life is a friendly, encouraging read. Without giving too much away, we’ll tell you that Gillan calls your inner critic “the crow” and offers tips on how to silence it to fully harness the power of words to express yourself. 

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

This witty and passionate guide to understanding and writing poetry is the perfect entry point for those new to the craft, but it’s also a great refresher for seasoned poets. Using poems by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and other greats as examples, Oliver unpacks the inner workings of matter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. 

The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser

Practical, tangible, and succinct, former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser pins down the essentials of poetry in this handbook by beginning with the most important piece of the puzzle: why . What is the purpose of poetry? Why do we write? Starting from here, Kooser teaches how to start, shape, and strengthen your poems overall. 

The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

For a mix of essays, exercises, and advice, The Poet’s Companion might just be your best friend. Though the book deals with topics like self-doubt and publishing in the electronic age, Addonizio and Laux don’t skim over the nuts and bolts of writing in the process. With one topic per chapter, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for in this helpful guide.

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Learn How to Write Poetry with the 17 Best Books on Writing Poetry

Are you looking to learn how to write poetry? Fear not: you’re in the right place. This epic list of the 17 best books on writing poetry has you covered. Whether you’re looking for poetry books for beginners, the best poetry journals, or want to level up your poetry writing skills as an intermediate to advanced poet, these 17 essential books about learning poetry writing has something for everyone.

For more books on creative writing, be sure to check out Broke by Books’ list of the 20 + best books on creative writing .

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The 17 Best Books to Learn How to Write Poetry

Blackout poetry journal: poetic therapy by kathryn maloney.

books of essays and poetry

One of the most popular forms of poetry today is the art of blackout poetry, in which poets scratch or blackout text to reveal a poem in the words that remain. Get started with Kathryn Maloney’s Blackout Poetry Journal , which includes excerpts from random books in the public domain. This poetry writing journal is a great way to learn how to get started with writing blackout poetry. Start with the second book in the series for a variety of source texts to black out, rather than working with one full book.

How to read it: Purchase Blackout Poetry Journal on Amazon

The complete rhyming dictionary by clement wood.

books of essays and poetry

A few years ago, I was working on a collection of children’s poetry. I loved exploring different rhyming poetic forms, like the limerick and the double dactyl. I purchased Clement Wood’s The Complete Rhyming Dictionary and was in good hands. This complete rhyming dictionary is a must-have for anyone writing rhyming poetry. What was so impressive was how comprehensive this dictionary was its depth, with over 60,000 entries, of obscure and popular words alike. You’ll easily be able to search by one-, two-, and three-syllable rhymes.

How to read it: Purchase The Complete Rhyming Dictionary on Amazon

The everything writing poetry book by tina d. eliopulos and todd scott moffett.

books of essays and poetry

This comprehensive and easily approachable guide to writing poetry has all the knowledge you need to get started with writing poetry. You’ll learn how to write poetry, starting by getting up to speed with styles, structures, form, and expression. This unpretentious book about how to write poetry for beginners will have you penning verse in no time. I especially appreciate deep-dive chapters on the sound of poetry, poetic language, and meter. The Everything Writing Poetry Book packs a lot of instruction in one book and is definitely the equivalent of an intro to poetry writing course you’d get in college.

How to read it: Purchase The Everything Writing Poetry Book on Amazon

How to write poetry: a guided journal with prompts by christopher salerno and kelsea habecker.

books of essays and poetry

There’s no better to get started with writing poetry than jumping in and getting your page dirty. In How to Write Poetry: A Guided Journal with Prompts , you’ll be taken through the process of writing poetry. This guided poetry journal pairs lessons on rhyme, meter, tone, persona, as well as movement-specific topics like protest poetry and object poetry, with practical prompts and space to test out what you’ve learned. By the time you’ve worked through this poetry writing workbook, you’ll be well on your way to being a poet.

How to read it: Purchase How to Write Poetry: A Guided Journal with Prompts on Amazon

A little book on form by robert hass.

books of essays and poetry

This book is a little misleading. Yes, it’s a book on poetic form. But it’s by no means a “little book.” And you know what? That’s totally okay. I’m happy to learn how to write poetry with this guide to poetic form authored by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, National Book Award-winning and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass. And there’s definitely a lot of wisdom on writing poetry in this essential book on how to write poetry. You’ll learn the core poetic forms, from ones you’ve heard of, like sonnets, with more obscure forms like the ode, the elegy, and Georgic. Yes: this definitive book on form belongs in the library of any poet.

How to read it: Purchase A Little Book on Form on Amazon

Merriam-webster’s rhyming dictionary by merriam webster.

books of essays and poetry

Writing rhyming poetry? Get all the words you need with Merriam-Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary . This comprehensive rhyming dictionary counts more than 70,000 rhyming words, as well as an alphabetical listing of rhyming sounds plus pronunciation for each entry. Brand names are also included for those looking to rhyme with proper nouns.

How to read it: Purchase Merriam-Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary

My poetry journal by pretty nifty publishing.

books of essays and poetry

This poetry writing journal will teach you how to write poetry in a jiffy. My Poetry Journal contains 48 creative prompts about a variety of topics—from fairy tale characters to giving thanks to snowflakes—and plenty of blank space to get to work on converting your inspiration into poems. This poetry writing workbook is a great book for learning how to write poetry.

How to read it: Purchase My Poetry Journal on Amazon

One poem a day by nadia hayes.

books of essays and poetry

Poetry writing for beginners starts with making writing poems a daily habit. Get started with writing poetry with Nadia Hayes’ One Poem a Day . This poetry writing workbook includes creative prompts—like finishing a sonnet, filling in the blanks of a partially completed poem, penning haiku, and writing free verse—and plenty of space to scratch out your own poems.

How to read it: Purchase One Poem a Day on Amazon

The poet’s companion by kim addonizio and dorianne laux.

books of essays and poetry

This sacred text on how to write poetry was first published in 1997, but still, more than twenty years later, it remains a classic. Brief essays on poetry topics like simile and metaphor, voice and style, and repetition will launch you into becoming a confident poem, but its the chapters on the writing life and cultivating a core identity as a poet that make this book special. The Poet’s Companion also includes a long list of twenty-minute writing exercises for that extra spark of creativity.

How to read it: Purchase The Poet’s Companion on Amazon

A poetry handbook by mary oliver.

books of essays and poetry

Who better to teach you how to write poetry than legendary American poet Mary Oliver? Although Oliver died in 2019, her legacy lives long in her enduring brilliance, and in A Poetry Handbook , one of the best poetry writing books, beginning poets can glean some of Oliver’s wisdom. Though this book about learning how to write poetry is brief at just 130 pages, it’s chock full of priceless advice and instruction on how to write poetry for beginners. Oliver covers topics like how to read poems, sound, free verse, imagery, and the all-important revision. If I were to recommend just one book on poetry writing, it’d be Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook .

How to read it: Purchase A Poetry Handbook on Amazon

Poetry: tools & techniques by john c. goodwood.

books of essays and poetry

In John C. Goodwood’s Poetry: Tools & Techniques readers get all they need to know to write not just any old poetry, but good poetry. This book is definitely for poets who feel confident writing verse but want to level up their game a big way. Intermediate and advanced poets will learn a lot from Goodwood’s book, which covers topics like overusing common parts of speech, assonance and alliteration, punctuation, structuring a poem, and effective openings and effective closings. Poetry: Tools & Techniques has all the craft knowledge and instruction of a college seminar in writing poetry.

How to read it: Purchase Poetry: Tools & Techniques on Amazon

The practicing poet: writing beyond the basics by diane lockward.

books of essays and poetry

Diane Lockward’s The Practicing Poet is a poetry writing guide for intermediate and advanced poets who want to level up their craft. Going beyond the basics of writing poetry, Lockward’s book is structured around ten sections each dedicated to key poetic concepts, like managing sentences and line breaks and perfecting tone, as well as big-concept lessons on finding new material, publishing, manuscript formatting, and even giving a reading.

How to read it: Purchase The Practicing Poet on Amazon

Smash poetry journal by robert lee brewer.

books of essays and poetry

This poetry writing journal will help you on your way to learning how to write poetry. Containing 125 writing ideas to spark your creativity, ignite your inspiration, and explore yourself as a person and a poet, Smash Poetry Journal also contains mini lessons on writing poetry for beginners. Have writer’s block? Or just don’t know how to start a poem? Let the Smash Poetry Journal be your ticket to amplifying your creativity.

How to read it: Purchase Smash Poetry Journal on Amazon

Write a collection of poetry in a year by mv frankland.

books of essays and poetry

Want to compile your first collection of poetry? Then MV Frankland’s Write a Collection of Poetry in a Year is the right book for you. It might sound intimidating to craft a poetry collection in just a year, but Frankland walks you through it step by step, starting with writing, revising, and perfecting one poem a week. If you’re an ambitious poet who has your sights on publication, this book will help you get ready to share your poetry with others through a published collection. This book also contains useful information on the nitty-gritty’s of being a professional poet, covering topics like networking, creating an online platform, and publishing (traditional and independent).

How to read it: Purchase Write a Collection of Poetry in a Year on Amazon

Writing haiku by bruce ross.

books of essays and poetry

One of the most popular poetic forms is the humble haiku. Even if you find writing a sestina or villanelle intimidating, you can surely manage a haiku. Get started on learning more about haiku with Bruce Ross’ Writing Haiku , your trusty guide to crafting effective haiku and related forms like tanka, renga, and haiga. You’ll come away having perfected your haiku poetry through examples, prompts, and exercises.

How to read it: Purchase Writing Haiku on Amazon

Writing poetry: creative and critical approaches by chad davison and gregory fraser.

books of essays and poetry

If you’d prefer a more collegiate approach for learning how to write poetry, check out Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches . One of the best poetry books for beginners, this book is not just about writing poetry, but how you analyze and appreciate poetry on a critical level. After getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I definitely appreciate learning the craft of writing. And in Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches you’ll hone your craft wisdom that will make you not only a better reader of poetry, but a better poet overall.

How to read it: Purchase Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches on Amazon

Writing Poetry to Save Your Life by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

books of essays and poetry

Our final book in this list of the best books on writing poetry is Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s Writing Poetry to Save Your Life . This poetry writing workbook is chock full of inspiring prompts and creative exercises that will make you do deep inner emotional work while also helping you hone your identity as a poet. The idea is to tap into cathartic expression that fuels the best poems and poets of all time.

How to read it: Purchase Writing Poetry to Save Your Life on Amazon

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Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

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If you want to get more poetry into your life, why not start with some of the best poetry books there are? I’ve compiled a list of books by the best poets I know to help you jump-start your reading. In some cases, I’ve chosen individual volumes that best represent an author’s work, and in others, I’ve chosen the “selected works” or similar to give you a broad overview.

My selections of the best poetry books include works from ancient writers though Shakespeare’s time, to the Romantics and other 19th century poets, to 20th century poets, and finally to works from contemporary, living writers. Take a look at the list and see if you have any favorite poets to add!

Book descriptions are taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

Dig into these poetry books and expand your reading world. poetry | poetry books | must-read poetry books | book lists | poetry lists

The Best Classic Poetry Books

If not, winter: fragments of sappho by sappho (died 580 bc), translated by anne carson.

“From poet and classicist Anne Carson comes this translation of the work of Sappho, together with the original Greek. Carson presents all the extant fragments of Sappho’s verse, employing brackets and white space to denote missing text – allowing the reader to imagine the poems as they were written.”

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The Essential Rumi   by Rumi (1207–1273), Translated by Coleman Barks

“Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi mystic who lived in Konya, a city of Ottoman Empire (Today’s Turkey). His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages, and he has been described as the most popular poet and the best-selling poet in the United States.”

The Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

“This is the only fully annotated and modernized edition to bring together Shakespeare’s sonnets as well as all his poems (including those attributed to him after his death) in one volume. A full introduction discusses his development as a poet, and how the poems relate to the plays, and detailed notes explain the language and allusions. While accessibly written, the edition takes account of the most recent scholarship and criticism.”

John Donne’s Poetry by John Donne (1572–1631)

“John Donne was an English poet, preacher and a major representative of the metaphysical poets of the period. His works are notable for their realistic and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons.”

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho   by Basho (1644–1694), Translated by Lucien Stryk

“Basho, one of the greatest of Japanese poets and the master of haiku, was also a Buddhist monk and a life-long traveller. Each poem evokes the natural world – the cherry blossom, the leaping frog, the summer moon or the winter snow – suggesting the smallness of human life in comparison to the vastness and drama of nature.”

Songs of Innocence and Experience   by William Blake (1757–1827)

“Blake was one of the finest craftsmen of his time, an artist for whom art and poetry were inextricably linked. He was an independent and rebellious thinker, who abhorred pretension and falsity in others. His ‘Songs of Innocence’ are products of this innocent imagination untainted by worldliness, while the ‘Songs of Experience’ resulted from his feelings of indignation and pity for the suffering of mankind.”

Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)

“Wordsworth and Coleridge’s joint collection of poems has often been singled out as the founding text of English Romanticism. Within this initially unassuming, anonymous volume were many of the poems that came to define their age and which have continued to delight readers ever since, including  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner , the ‘Lucy’ poems … and many more.”

Selected Poetry by John Keats (1795–1821)

“Keats published three volumes of poetry before his death at age twenty-five of tuberculosis…His poetry and his remarkable letters reveal a spirit of questing vitality and profound understanding and his final volume, which contains the great odes and the unfinished Hyperion, attests to an astonishing maturity of power.”

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

“[ Leaves of Grass is] the incomparable achievement of one of America’s greatest poets—an exuberant, passionate man who loved his country and wrote of it as no other has ever done. Walt Whitman was a singer, thinker, visionary, and citizen extraordinaire.”

Goblin Market and Other Poems   by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

“An important and often-quoted literary figure, the English poet Christina Rossetti wrote some of the most beautiful and voluptuous poetry in the English language. Like Emily Dickinson, she lived in self-imposed isolation, writing of God and lost love with a sensuality and passion that seemed to emanate from the soul.”

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson   by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

“Only eleven of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published prior to her death in 1886; the startling originality of her work doomed it to obscurity in her lifetime. This book, a distillation of the three-volume  Complete Poems , brings together the original texts of all 1,775 poems that Emily Dickinson wrote.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

“Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) was one of the most innovative of nineteenth-century poets. During his tragically short life he strove to reconcile his religious and artistic vocations, and this edition demonstrates the range of his interests.”

The Best Twentieth-Century Poetry Books

Robert frost’s poems by robert frost (1874–1963).

“ Robert Frost’s Poems  contains all of Robert Frost’s best-known poems-and dozens more-in a portable anthology. Here are ‘Birches,’ ‘Mending Wall,’ ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ ‘Two Tramps at Mudtime,’ ‘Choose Something Like a Star,’ and ‘The Gift Outright,’ which Frost read at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.”

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), Translated by Stephen Mitchell

“Rilke is unquestionably the most significant and compelling poet of romantic transformation, of spiritual quest, that the twentieth century has known. His poems of ecstatic identification with the world exert a seemingly endless fascination for contemporary readers.”

Selected Poems   by William Carlos Williams (1883–1963)

“A poet of astonishing range and inventiveness, Williams was at once a daring formal innovator, one of the band of modernists who transformed American poetry, and an intimate, sometimes savagely frank chronicler of the life and landscape of his native New Jersey.”

Trilogy  by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1886–1961)

“The first book of the Trilogy, ‘The Walls Do Not Fall,’ published in the midst of the ‘fifty thousand incidents’ of the London blitz, maintains the hope that though ‘we have no map; / possibly we will reach haven,/ heaven.’ ‘Tribute to Angels’ describes new life springing from the ruins, and finally, in ‘The Flowering of the Rod’ … faith in love and resurrection is realized in lyric and strongly Biblical imagery.”

The Poems of Marianne Moore by Marianne Moore (1887–1972)

“More than thirty years after her death, Marianne Moore continues to be one of America’s most beloved poets. The poems demonstrate Moore’s wide range of interests, moving from witty images of animals, sporting events, and social institutions, to thoughtful meditations on human nature.”

Selected Poems   by Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966), Translated by D.M. Thomas

“Anna Akhmatova is among the most moving and revered voices in Russian literature. A poet of passion and conscience, she was persecuted after the Revolution and under Stalin, but chose to remain in Russia and bear witness. Her works capture a rich emotional world – poems such as ‘A Ride’ and ‘By the Seashore’ reflect a complex attitude to love or explore the duality of her own nature, while others, such as ‘Courage’ and ‘In 1940’, evoke the horrors of war.”

The Selected Poetry   by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950)

“One of America’s most celebrated poets—and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1923—Edna St. Vincent Millay defined a generation with her passionate lyrics and intoxicating voice of liberation.”

100 Selected Poems by E. E. Cummings (1894–1962)

“[ 100 Selected Poems ] contains one hundred of Cummings’s wittiest and most profound poems, harvested from thirty-five of the most radically creative years in contemporary American poetry. These poems exhibit all the extraordinary lyricism, playfulness, technical ingenuity, and compassion for which Cummings is famous.”

The Selected Poems   by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898–1937)

“Lorca is admired all over the world for the lyricism, immediacy and clarity of his poetry, as well as for his ability to encompass techniques of the symbolist movement with deeper psychological shadings. But Lorca’s poems are, most of all, admired for their beauty. Undercurrents of his major influences–Spanish folk traditions from his native Andalusia and Granada, gypsy ballads, and his friends the surrealists Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel–stream throughout Lorca’s work.

Selected Poems by Langston Hughes (1901–1967)

“With the publication of his first book of poems,  The Weary Blues , in 1926, Langston Hughes electrified readers and launched a renaissance in black writing in America.  The poems Hughes wrote celebrated the experience of invisible men and women: of slaves who ‘rushed the boots of Washington’; of musicians on Lenox Avenue; of the poor and the lovesick; of losers in ‘the raffle of night.’”

Selected Poems   by W.H. Auden (1907–1973)

“Wystan Hugh Auden was an Anglo-American poet, best known for love poems such as  Funeral Blues , poems on political and social themes such as  September 1, 1939  and  The Shield of Achilles , poems on cultural and psychological themes such as  The Age of Anxiety , and poems on religious themes such as  For the Time Being  and  Horae Canonicae .”

New and Collected Poems: 1931–2001 by Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004)

“ N ew and Collected Poems: 1931—2001  celebrates seven decades of Czeslaw Milosz’s exceptional career. Widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of our time, Milosz is a master of probing inquiry and graceful expression. Milosz worked with the Polish Resistance movement in Warsaw during World War II and defected to France in 1951. His work brings to bear the political awareness of an exile.”

Collected Poems  by Robert Hayden (1913–1980)

“In Hayden’s work the actualities of history and culture became the launching places for flights of imagination and intelligence. His voice—characterized by musical diction and an exquisite feeling for the formality of pattern—is a seminal one in American life and literature.”

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks   by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)

“‘If you wanted a poem,’ wrote Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.’ From the life of Chicago’s South Side she made a forceful and passionate poetry that fused Modernist aesthetics with African-American cultural tradition, a poetry that registered the life of the streets and the upheavals of the 20th century.

View With a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems by Wislawa Szymborska (1923–2012), Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

“In these one-hundred poems Wisława Szymborska portrays a world of astonishing diversity and richness, in which nature is wise and prodigal and fate unpredictable, if not mischevious. With acute irony tempered by a generous curiousity, she documents life’s improbability as well as its transient beauty.”

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery (1927–2017)

“Not only in the title poem, which the critic John Russell  called ‘one of the finest long poems of our period,’ but throughout the entire volume, Ashbery reaffirms the poetic power that made him an outstanding figure in contemporary literature.  These are poems ‘of breathtaking freshness and adventure in which dazzling orchestrations of language open up whole areas of consciousness no other American poet as ever begun to explore.’”

The Complete Poetry  by Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

“Throughout her illustrious career in letters, Maya Angelou gifted, healed, and inspired the world with her words. Now the beauty and spirit of those words live on in this new and complete collection of poetry that reflects and honors the writer’s remarkable life.”

Diving Into the Wreck   by Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

“In her seventh volume of poetry, Adrienne Rich searches to reclaim—to discover—what has been forgotten, lost, or unexplored. ‘I came to explore the wreck. / The words are purposes. / The words are maps. / I came to see the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail.’ These provocative poems move with the power of Rich’s distinctive voice.

The Poetry of Derek Walcott, 1948–2013   by Derek Walcott (1930–2017)

“Across sixty-five years, Walcott grapples with the themes that have defined his work as they have defined his life: the unsolvable riddle of identity; the painful legacy of colonialism on his native Caribbean island of St. Lucia; the mysteries of faith and love and the natural world; the Western canon, celebrated and problematic; the trauma of growing old, of losing friends, family, one’s own memory.”

Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)

“When Sylvia Plath died, she not only left behind a prolific life but also her unpublished literary masterpiece,  Ariel . This collection showcases the beloved poet’s brilliant, provoking, and always moving poems, including ‘Ariel’ and once again shows why readers have fallen in love with her work throughout the generations.”

The Collected Poems   by Audre Lorde (1934–1992)

“Collected here for the first time are more than three hundred poems from one of this country’s major and most influential poets, representing the complete oeuvre of Audre Lorde’s poetry. Lorde published nine volumes of poetry which, in her words, detail ‘a linguistic and emotional tour through the conflicts, fears, and hopes of the world I have inhabited.’”

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver (1935–2019)

“Carefully curated, these 200 plus poems feature Oliver’s work from her very first book of poetry,  No Voyage and Other Poems , published in 1963 at the age of 28, through her most recent collection,  Felicity , published in 2015. This timeless volume, arranged by Oliver herself, showcases the beloved poet at her edifying best.”

Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney (1939–2013)

“In ‘Digging,’ the first poem in Opened Ground, Heaney likens his pen to both spade and gun. With these metaphors in place, he makes clear his difficult poetic task: to delve into the past, both personal and historic, while remaining ever mindful of the potentially fatal power of language.”

The Best Poetry Books by Living Writers

The wild iris   by louise glück (1943–).

“This collection of stunningly beautiful poems encompasses the natural, human, and spiritual realms, and is bound together by the universal themes of time and mortality. With clarity and sureness of craft, Gluck’s poetry questions, explores, and finally celebrates the ordeal of being alive.”

Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems  by Yusef Komunyakaa (1947–)

“[Neon Vernacular  is] an award-winning poet’s testimony of the war in Vietnam. Yusef Komunyakaa is an American poet who teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.”

What the Living Do: Poems   by Marie Howe (1950–)

“Informed by the death of a beloved brother, here are the stories of childhood, its thicket of sex and sorrow and joy, boys and girls growing into men and women, stories of a brother who in his dying could teach how to be most alive.”

How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975–2002   by Joy Harjo (1951–)

“This collection gathers poems from throughout Joy Harjo’s twenty-eight-year career, beginning in 1973 in the age marked by the takeover at Wounded Knee and the rejuvenation of indigenous cultures in the world through poetry and music.  How We Became Human  explores its title question in poems of sustaining grace.”

Selected Poems   by Rita Dove (1952–)

“Here in one volume is a selection of the extraordinary poems of Rita Dove, who, as the nation’s Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995, brought poetry into the lives of millions of people.  Precisely yet intensely felt, resonant with the voices of ordinary people, Rita Dove’s  Selected Poems  is marked by lyric intensity and compassionate storytelling.”

Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield (1953–)

“In poems complex in meaning yet clear in statement and depiction, Hirshfield explores questions of identity, aging, death, and of time and the variegated gifts brought by its relentless passage. Whether meditating upon a button, the role of habit in our lives, or the elusive nature of our relationship to sleep, Hirshfield brings each subject into a surprising and magnified existence.”

Urban Tumbleweed: Notes From a Tanka Diary   by Harryette Mullen (1953–)

“ Urban Tumbleweed  is the poet Harryette Mullen’s exploration of spaces where the city and the natural world collide. Written out of a daily practice of walking, Mullen’s stanzas adapt the traditional Japanese tanka, a poetic form suited for recording fleeting impressions, describing environmental transitions, and contemplating the human being’s place in the natural world.”

Picture Bride by Cathy Song (1955–)

“The winning volume in the 1982 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Cathy Song’s  Picture Bride , a book about people and their innumerable journeys. Distinguished poet Richard Hugo says, ‘Cathy Song’s poems are flowers: colorful, sensual, and quiet, and they are offered almost shyly as bouquets to those moments in life that seemed minor but in retrospect count the most. She often reminds a loud, indifferent, hard world of what truly matters to the human spirit.’”

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (1963–)

“Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time.”

Monument: Poems New and Selected   by Natasha Trethewey (1966–)

“ Monument , Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina.”

Book of Hours: Poems by Kevin Young (1970–)

“Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.”

Wade in the Water: Poems   by Tracy K. Smith (1972–)

“In  Wade in the Water , Tracy K. Smith boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to our nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting. These are poems of sliding scale: some capture a flicker of song or memory; some collage an array of documents and voices; and some push past the known world into the haunted, the holy.”

When my Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Díaz

“This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it out.”

Bestiary: Poems   by Donika Kelly

“Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters–half human and half something else. Donika Kelly’s  Bestiary  is a catalogue of creatures–from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from ‘Out West’ to ‘Back East.’”

Want more recommendations of the best poetry books available? Check out this list of 50 of the Best Poetry Books by Contemporary Authors ,  50 Must-Read 2019 Poetry Collections , and even more poetry posts .

The Best Fiction Books » Poetry

The best books on how to write poetry, recommended by kathleen j graber.

According to Graber, poetry demands that readers and thinkers slow down; just as a poem emerges through careful attention, it demands and recreates that kind of attention within the reader

The best books on How to Write Poetry - Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

The best books on How to Write Poetry - What Goes On by Stephen Dunn

What Goes On by Stephen Dunn

The best books on How to Write Poetry - Black Zodiac by Charles Wright

Black Zodiac by Charles Wright

The best books on How to Write Poetry - Winter Stars by Larry Levis

Winter Stars by Larry Levis

The best books on How to Write Poetry - This Time by Gerald Stern

This Time by Gerald Stern

books of essays and poetry

1 Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

2 what goes on by stephen dunn, 3 black zodiac by charles wright, 4 winter stars by larry levis, 5 this time by gerald stern.

Many people find it difficult to find their voice when they are writing poetry. What advice would you give them?

Most artists learn by imitation. This is certainly how I learned to write poetry, and this is how I encourage my students to learn. At some point as an apprentice, you realise that you might finally possess enough skills to fashion a reasonably passable imitation of the artist whose work has inspired you, but something other than ability prevents you from achieving the perfect fake. The thing that will keep getting in your way will be your own voice. Ironically, then, in trying to write like the poets whose work I loved, I learned to write like myself. There are so many kinds of poems. Perhaps at the start, a student cannot say why she loves the work of another poet, but contained in that attraction are the seeds of her own aesthetics. Eventually a poet can say, ‘Of all the kinds of poems that I might have chosen to write, I write this kind. And I write this kind because I value this kind.’ While all poets ought to have a wide palette and read other poets of all sorts, their own writing testifies to what they themselves think poems ought to do. We choose.

Let’s start with Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty. 

For the first decade of my working life, I taught in schools. A friend asked me to chaperone a group of her students who were going to a poetry festival. I reluctantly agreed. At the festival, Mark Doty read two or three poems. When he was finished, I thought, ‘I want to learn to do that!’ Doty is an exquisite image-maker. His language is so precise and lush. He allows himself to linger over his descriptions, and his poems emerge out of that careful attention. I have never written a poem as beautiful as any one of his poems. But his work is not all shine (or sequins, as he says in one poem addressed to his critics). I love even more than the rendered image, the engaged, inquisitive mind that animates his vision. The poems are not just conscious but self-conscious; they are inhabited by a soul that is not simply talking to some specific other or many others but also talking to itself. The body of Doty’s work is profoundly moving – many of the early poems having been written in the midst of the Aids epidemic – but the poems are also funny and self-deprecating. There is nothing Mark Doty does not do well!

Your next choice, What Goes On: Selected and New Poems, 1995-2009, is by an old teacher of yours, Stephen Dunn. 

Stephen Dunn was my first teacher. What Goes On is his second book of new and selected poems, but his influence on the way I think about poems extends beyond the reach of any one collection and also beyond the reach of the poems themselves. I was already in my mid-30s when I enrolled as a continuing education student in Dunn’s undergraduate class. I had a lot of big ideas that I wanted to express in poetry, or that’s as close as I can come now to whatever it was I thought I wanted to do. For a year I wrote very bad poems, consistently among the worst in the room on any given evening. Dunn’s advice, which I understood but couldn’t manage to follow, was to set aside ideas in favour of things. William Carlos Williams is so often quoted in this regard: ‘No ideas but in things.’ I think Stephen wanted me to try, ‘No ideas at all!’

Dunn is himself a very philosophical poet, and this was odd, somewhat dictatorial advice coming from someone who always mixes image with intellect, but he knew that I could think. He also knew that I couldn’t render an image. He wanted the horse before the cart, or, at least no carts without horses, as those things aren’t going to go anywhere! Every thought in Dunn’s work emerges as a direct response to experience. Hence, his ruminations, which tend to undermine our daily assumptions and comfortable moral values, feel as though they have emerged from life rather than from scholarship.

Let’s move on to another influence – Black Zodiac by Charles Wright.

The first imitation that I wrote that felt in any way like a successful poem on its own was an imitation of Charles Wright. While Dunn had rightly tried to steer me away from too much intellectualisation in my writing, Wright is a poet who moves between a generally profoundly understated moment in his life (most often he’s just sitting in his yard watching birds or lightening bugs as twilight comes on) and metaphysical pondering. One gets a sense that the mundane and the overarching are always merged, approaching together on the wind. He gave me permission to quote from other texts directly the way an essay might. There is a difference between Wright’s appropriation of a text and Eliot’s. Wright generally gives you all the contextual information you need right there in the body of the poem. He isn’t interested in opacity at all.

I didn’t know poems could do that! It was shocking to me. I love the wonderful texture that these other voices introduced into his poems, and I love the way Wright moves from the quotidian to the elevated, from the humidity of an August night to snippets from Roberto Calasso or Augustine or Wallace Stevens or one of the Chinese poets he loves so much. The domain of the poem is not bounded by the exterior landscape of the American South but the interior landscape. When you read Wright, you enter into a sensibility. This is how this mind experiences a typical evening. Always rooted in his Appalachian upbringing, it is not, to my mind, pompous or presumptuous, even when it suddenly speaks in Latin: it is, instead, the authentic voice of a soul that thinks and feels in conversation with other souls who have thought and felt. I also realised that Wright was orchestrating the stream of his thoughts through the use of line breaks and the dropped line. These were signals that allowed him to wander around the spaciousness of his own head without losing his reader.

What about Larry Levis’s Winter Stars? 

Larry Levis’s poems taught me to do the thing Dunn had wanted me to do. They taught how to bring an experience into a poem in a way that felt intimate but not creepily confessional. At least that’s my goal and that’s how his poems seem to me. Levis died at a relatively young age, 50, and his legacy is still on the rise in American poetry.

What has he bequeathed? His poems have the dynamic shifts that one also finds in a poem by Charles Wright, for instance, but the places his mind goes with each turn are darker, psychologically deeper, and less sensibly linked to one another than the places Wright’s mind tends to go. The connections between the elements in a Levis poem are ‘intuitive’. The poems are very thrilling as a result of their wildness or associative leaping. It is not always possible to say simply why the assembled moments feel ‘right’ together. Levis reaches back into his own personal autobiography (or some imaginative version of it) more often than Wright. There is also something nearly surreal is some of Levis’s poems: an extended image will often be a rabbit hole the reader and poet tumble down. When we emerge, we find we have been changed in some strange way that logic alone could not have achieved.

One poet you very much admire is Gerald Stern and his book This Time: New and Selected Poems. 

No one else writes poems like Gerald Stern’s poems. Their wildness is different from the wildness of a Levis poem, though it can have some of the same surreal image-making qualities. The wildness, for me, in a Stern poem is one of emotion. If Doty sees more deeply than most, and Dunn and Wright seem to think more deeply, then Stern ‘feels’ more fully or more extravagantly. Of these three broad poetic features – seeing, thinking, feeling – feeling came last for me. It isn’t that I’m a cold person: it is that I am exceedingly suspicious of poems that make me, as a reader, feel like a voyeur. This would be the knock against many ‘confessional’ poets. Hence, for a long time, I tended to write poems that were too understated with regard to their emotions.

Stern’s poems, on the other hand, explode off the page with expressive gestures (weeping and hollering are common activities, for example). Yet I trust Stern’s feelings, meaning I believe he feels them. I don’t think, even in their extremity, that they are inauthentic. I needed to see how far a poet could go with something like raw feeling. A poem without an authentic emotional engagement on the part of its maker will be a boring poem. It may be fabulously wrought, but no one will care. I go to poems to be moved; Stern’s poems move me very, very much. I often weep and howl when I read them. And I like that.

How did you go about choosing the poems for Eternal City – you have many varied voices in there including Johnny Depp?

I wanted to write a book that was in some way different from Correspondence, and I only half-achieved that, which feels fine to me. I had a general idea, after writing the series of poems in response to Marcus Aurelius, that I wanted to think in very broad terms about imperialism and its relationship to technology and also the basic idea of possession. But, of course, everything human falls into those categories so that wasn’t a very limiting vision. But the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man – which stars Johnny Depp and which is how he ends up with a cameo in one of the poems – seems very much about the American Dream and the nation’s westward expansion. Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo is also a film about people in places they don’t belong doing truly insane things they ought not to be doing. These characters are every bit as tragic and ridiculous and emblematic as they are likable and heroic, though I’m not sure that there is much of a hero in Depp’s character. He seems largely a victim of circumstance, which I suppose makes it a work of realism in some way, despite its strangeness.

The Eternal City is meant to be a metaphor for the mind, a timeless landscape in which the past and present, the fictional and actual, the elevated and the quotidian live side by side. Johnny Depp lives in my mental landscape as does Marcus Aurelius and Walter Benjamin. Benjamin lives in the best house in town, in fact. I never get tired of visiting him!

I’m not very prolific: there weren’t many poems that were excluded from the collection. If I begin a poem, I tend to work on it quite diligently. I’m not someone who abandons a lot of drafts. Most of the poems that I managed to write between 2005 and now are in The Eternal City.

Why do you think in such a busy world people should still make time to read poetry?

I think that precisely because it is a busy world people ought to make time for poetry. Poetry demands that readers and thinkers slow down. Just as a poem emerges out of careful attention, it demands and re-creates that kind of attention within the reader. Poems are the antithesis of the sound bite; they are antidotes to polarisation. A good poem does not seek an easy answer or a single way of looking at the world. A good poem attempts to reopen within us our understanding of how varied and multivalent our experiences are, how complicated the world is. It also often asks us to consider perspectives other than our own and to locate our humanity within a larger context. I am not a person of conventional faith, but there is much that feels sacred to me. Our moral obligations to each other and to the planet are sacred responsibilities. I don’t want a poem to speak in a preachy way directly to those obligations, and there are certainly no quick fixes on the horizon, but poems encourage and cultivate an interior life in which our awareness of those obligations is less easily avoided. The attention of the poem reconsecrates not only its immediate subject but also the act of attention itself. And poetry reconsecrates language, which, as we know, is always under siege from those who would like to empty it of both its meanings and its beauty.

September 10, 2010

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Kathleen J Graber

Kathleen J Graber

Kathleen Graber was a Hodder Fellow in Poetry at Princeton. Her first book,  Correspondence , was the winner of the 2005 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Poems from her latest collection,  The Eternal City , have appeared in  The New Yorker ,  AGNI ,  The Kenyon Review ,  The Georgia Review ,  The American Poetry Review  and elsewhere. 

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5 Writers Who Blur the Boundary Between Poetry and Essay

"poets are the hoarders of the literary world".

There is a Bernadette Mayer writing exercise that suggests attempting to flood the brain with ideas from varying sources, then writing it all down, without looking at the page or what spreads over it. I have attempted this exercise multiple times, with multiple sources, and what I love about it—along with many of Mayer’s other 81 prompts—is that what comes out can literally take any form. The form is not dictated by the content I read, nor the rules of the exercise. The information I collect prior to writing may be entirely disparate, seemingly unrelated, but through the writing, it begins to take shape, and links are found. In the process of communicating information in a lyric way, barriers to form withheld, I am able to develop a richer portrait of what thinking really looks like.

I heard someone say once that poets are the hoarders of the literary world: collectors of facts, dates, quotes, newspaper headlines, ticket stubs, and love letters. Indeed, another of Mayer’s prompts is to keep a diary, or diar ies , of such useful things. As these journal pages begin to overflow, content spilling over the borders, the writing becomes something we might not always call a poem. Reflecting on his poetry collection The Little Edges and a book of essays The Service Porch , both of which appeared in 2016, poet and critic Fred Moten said , “The line between the criticism and the poetry is sort of blurry. I got some stuff in the poems that probably could’ve been collected with the essays.”

There is a long-standing tradition of poets who have refused genre, or reinvented it, and who continue to push the boundaries of form. Here are five, but just a cursory glance into any of their work will lead you to uncover many more.

Jenny Boully

Jenny Boully

The first essay in Jenny Boully’s latest collection Betwixt and Between: Essays on the Writing Life, published last month, is a journey into two illusive linguistic temporalities: “the future imagined and the past imagined. ” By positioning the reader in a space of hypothesis, Boully tests the limits of memory and lived experience, never quite allowing her reader to land on stable footing. With this linguistic trick, a redefinition of what is the personal begins to emerge.

Throughout her work, Boully is interested in reorienting the role of the reader from passive to participatory and reorienting the structure of the text from chronological to sensory. In an introduction to Boully’s work, Mary Jo Bang writes , “She uses form in a way that undercuts our every expectation based on previous encounters with poetry.” It’s no wonder that excerpts from her first book The Body , written as footnotes to an imaginary text, were included in both John D’Agata’s  The Next American Essay and The Best American Poetry 2002 .

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Dodie Bellamy

Dodie Bellamy is a seamstress of language. Her work stretches the definitions of narrative writing by incorporating literary appropriation, cut-ups, collage, and détournement, or the act of turning a recognizable cultural product on itself, a technique developed by the Situationist International in the 1950s. Her poetic “cunt ups” take works of the traditional poetic canon and reinvent them with a contemporary feminist voice, directly splicing the historic masculine texts with pornographic imagery. The 2013 collection Cunt Norton employs the original language of 33 canonical poets, twisting them into erotic poems as an act of love for her predecessors. “These patriarchal voices that threatened to erase me—of course I love them as well,” Bellamy wrote of the work . Her experiments began to take a more prosaic form as she desired further space for her content. “I was writing linked poems that kept getting longer and more narrative,” she said in an interview .

Due to her inventive and often hysterical treatment of language, Bellamy’s voice is engaging on any topic. The themes she tackles in her collected essays When the Sick Rule the World range from the gentrification of San Francisco, her experiences with a women’s writing group and a moving tribute to the late equally inventive writer Kathy Acker, in the form of a catalogue of the contents of her wardrobe.

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Claudia Rankine

When Claudia Rankine’s Citizen won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the judges’ citation read, in part, “It’s not (just) poetry.” The prose-poetry hybrid is a current throughout her work; her previous poetry title Don’t Let Me Be Lonely  was described, alongside Citizen , as “lyric essays” in the  The New York Review of Books . Rankine’s work uses investigative tools of poetry to probe what it means to be human and to encourage readers to examine their personal responsibility to others. Through experiments in form, she highlights the dangers of lazy classification of people and experiences; her words in any medium provoke self-reflection.

In Citizen , a 2015 essay on Serena Williams finds a comfortable home alongside prose and list poems. With her employment of the second person throughout the collection, Rankine prompts her readers to enter into the very experiences she is describing, whether they are wholly familiar or not. As such, her approach is in equal measure confrontational and humanizing.

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David Rattray

When the poet, critic, and renowned translator David Rattray passed away at the age of 57 in 1993, the experimental writer Lynn Tillman wrote , “He swept us away also with his ‘bad attitude,’ his insubordination to authority and to the authority of what he knew.” This was true not just in the manner he lived his life, but also how he captured life in text. A principle translator of Antonin Artaud, Rattray’s own poems display a diary-like quality: they are grand narrations stuffed full of dates, places, people.

A collection of essays and stories exploring his relationship to close friends, grief, drugs, travel, and literature called How I Became One of the Invisible was put together by Chris Kraus just before his death. Through narratives that are at once breathless and directional, and full of poetic references and quotes, Rattray reveals his deep feelings for those with whom he shared his life. “He believed people were gems, precious, and treated them accordingly,” Betsy Sussler wrote , following his passing. And so too did he treat his words, allowing us to enter into his world imbued with sensitivity.

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Maggie Nelson

Asked in an interview by Emily Gould as to how she decides on which genre(s) she will employ when writing a new book, Maggie Nelson replied , “Genre, for me, is determined by the unfolding of my interests, which is unknowable at a projects’ start.” Her defiance of category is not only evident in her bibliography, but in the bibliography of each book which makes it up. Bluets , which began as an investigation into the color blue and its varying manifestations throughout history, became a book of prose poems. The Art of Cruelty , a personal reflection on the employment of violence in art, became a book of academic criticism. Begun as a work of criticism, The Argonauts became a personal memoir, with its background research spilling, literally, into the margins. “I find my way to the right tone, idiom, form or set of subjects as I bumble along,” Nelson says.

It is her very adaptability of form and expression that has become one of her signature attributes, despite the literary world’s continued insistence on writerly classification, and in turn mimics the fluidity of her subjects. Hilton Als writes , “It’s Nelson’s articulation of her many selves . . . that makes her readers feel hopeful.”

Listen: Claudia Rankine talks to Paul Holdengräber about objectifying the moment, investigating a subject, and accidental stalking.

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Ruby Brunton

Ruby Brunton

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For all the would-be wordsmiths out there, I've got nine books to read if you want to write poetry but don't know where to start. Pull out your favorite journal or note-taking app now and jot down a few lines — you have to begin somewhere, after all.

Being a writer is difficult, no matter what level of success you hope to achieve with your craft. If you've ever passed the writing reference section of your favorite bookstore, you know how overwhelming it can be to look at all the books on writing and wonder which ones you should get. Are there must-reads when it comes to crafting poetry and prose? Is it better to go it alone and without guidance?

The answer is that it's up to you. If you're happy with your work , then feel free to keep on keeping on. But if you feel like you need a friendly nudge in the right direction, or just want to know how other poets write, you can probably take a peek at a few of the books on the list below.

Check out the books I think you should read if you want to write poetry — some of them are poetry collections, some of them are guides, all of them will remind you why poetry is so magical:

'A Poetry Handbook' by Mary Oliver

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From the late Mary Oliver comes this slim guide to the basics of poetic form and function. If you aren't sure what the difference is between rhythm and meter, or if you wonder what the heck is up with iambic pentameter, this is the poetry reference book for you.

Click here to buy.

'The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics,' edited by Diane Lockward

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Assuming you already know a little bit about form, rhyme, and meter, this collection of 30 essays from experienced poets will guide you through the writing process, from finding inspiration to making revisions.

'Don't Call Us Dead' by Danez Smith

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You can't write poetry if you don't read poetry. For folks who haven't read any poetry in a while, there's Danez Smith's Don't Call Us Dead , a lauded and timely collection of poems from the award-winning writer.

'The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice' by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano

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For aspiring poets experiencing a dearth of inspiration, there's this handy book of prompts. Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano's The Daily Poet will help you to establish a daily writing practice.

'The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry' by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

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Combining essays on the mechanics of poetry with tips on how to avoid common pitfalls, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux's The Poet's Companion makes a great addition to any writer's toolbox.

'When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities' by Chen Chen

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Another contemporary poetry collection, Chen Chen's When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is an award-winning debut about the queer, immigrant, Asian-American experience, and it beautifully demonstrates that poems can be really funny.

'Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures' by Mary Ruefle

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My Private Property author Mary Reufle published this collection of essays on writing, literature, and emotion in 2012. Although it isn't devoted to poetry, per se , Ruefle's book of essays will help you to study different styles of composition, from which you can draw inspiration for your own work.

'Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories' by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

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Part memoir, part writing reference, Maria Mazziotti Gillan's Writing Poetry to Save Your Life is a conversational guide to the process of writing poetry and all its highs and lows.

'Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth' by Warsan Shire

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Finally, there's Warsan Shire's Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth . This gorgeous and heartfelt book of poetry will keep you wanting to write beautiful things for your own edification.

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5 of the best books on writing poetry

By BBC Maestro Poetry Last updated: 13 March 2023

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We all need inspiration from time to time, particularly when it comes to taking up a creative endeavour like writing poetry. 

In this article, we’ve rounded up a list of the best books on writing poetry to help you kickstart your poetry writing journey or spruce up your current practice.

  • Best books on writing poetry
  • 1. A Poetry Handbook
  • 2. Answering Back: Living poets reply to the poetry of the past
  • 3. The Practising Poet: Writing beyond the basics
  • 4. How to write poetry: A guided journal with prompts
  • 5. The Poets Companionship: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry

5 books on writing poetry

You may be waiting for that spark of inspiration to hit. Or perhaps you’re yearning for some solid guidance on how to structure your next poem. Whatever it is that’s brought you here – you certainly aren’t alone.

Plenty of poets have sought to identify the perfect conditions for a new idea to strike or attempted to create a winning formula to ace the writing process. And luckily, many of them have decided to share their learnings to help poets like you thrive.

We’ve rounded up 5 popular books on writing poetry to help address some of the challenges below.

1. A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

If it’s some gentle beginner’s guidance on how to write a poem you’re after, Mary Oliver should be able to provide you with what you’re looking for with this useful handbook.

Here you’ll find her breakdown of poetry’s basics – from different poetic forms and language techniques to practical tips on the creative process – like the importance of workshopping your pieces and the value solitude can bring to your writing too.

The latter is something many poets swear by, including Carol Ann Duffy. “I’ve learnt to value silence. I’ve learnt to value thinking, reading, contemplating, rather than rushing straight to the blank page,” she says in her BBC Maestro poetry course.

An open book

2. Answering Back: Living poets reply to the poetry of the past ­edited by Carol Ann Duffy

If you’re looking to kick a creative block, this anthology by the former Poet Laureate might just do the trick. It features a selection of popular modern-day poets (like Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney and emerging poets like Helen Mort, to name a few) responding to certain works of classic poets (think Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Tennyson).

Each poet was tasked with choosing any poem that compelled them in some way and responding to it with one of their own. Some of the works are clearly direct responses to the themes and ideas presented in the original poems whilst others are more subtle and offer a new perspective. It’s an exercise that can really help stir up some inspiration to write, and it’s one that Carol Ann Duffy tasks viewers of her online poetry course to do too.

Inspiration, as Picasso said, will come but it must find you working.

3. The Practising Poet: Writing beyond the basics by Diane Lockward

Whether you’re working on your second anthology, or this is the first time you’re coming to the pages, Lockward’s The Practicing Poet is the perfect companion for poets of all levels.

In this poetry book, you’ll find ten sections that break down different parts of the writing process. From helping writers generate their own ideas and tackling the editing process to getting your work published, it contains practical advice for each stage of the journey you can bring to your work – whether it's love poetry , dark poetry or another genre that excites you.

4. How to write poetry: A guided journal with prompts by Christopher Salerno and Kelsea Habecker

Hungry to get writing immediately? Packed with writing prompts and exercises, Salerno and Habecker’s book should have you writing from the moment you pick it up.

The workbook encourages writers to crack open their creativity – prompting them to assess rhyme and meter, language and form in innovative ways in the hope to craft something compelling. If you’re a beginner, it’s a great guide to help you get into the habit of writing regularly. And for those poetry experts, it may help provide a new framework to inspire your next great idea.

5.   The Poets Companionship: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Doiranne Laux

For those poets who need a confidence boost from time to time, this book may well be your new trusty companion.

Expect to come across a range of brilliant essays on all things poetry, like forming exciting ideas and navigating classic poetry techniques. At the same time, many appreciate this book for its comforting approach to the entire writing poetry process – acknowledging the inevitable self-doubt, the challenges of writing in a hyper-digital era and the forever rocky stability of a writing career. Even better – it encourages you to tackle it all at your own pace too.

Even if you have no idea where to start, hopefully, there’s something in here to help get you going. Remind yourself of the reasons why writing poetry interests you. Maybe you’re looking for a new way to express your thoughts and ideas, or you feel you have something important to say.

If so, remember the words of Carol Ann Duffy, “the poet must feel that they have something to give,” says Carol Ann. Keen to learn more? Take a look at her BBC Maestro course, Writing Poetry .

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Writers.com

Writing a poetry book requires courage, stamina, and a lot of patience with yourself. The poetry book ranks at the top of many poets’ to-do lists, but getting a manuscript in front of poetry book publishers takes years of writing and planning.

This article covers the essentials of getting new poetry books into print, covering both the writing and publishing process for contemporary poets. Let’s get into it: How do you write a poetry book?

How to Write a Poetry Book: Contents

How Many Poems in a Poetry Book?

What is a poetry chapbook, should i publish a chapbook or a full-length poetry collection, do modern poetry books follow a theme, how do you order the poems when writing a poetry book, how should i format my poetry manuscript, i’ve finished writing a poetry book. how do i publish it, what do poetry book publishers look for in manuscripts, checklist: how to publish a poetry book, who are some poetry book publishers i can submit to, do i need an agent to publish my poetry book, what can you tell me about self-publishing a poetry book, a final note on how to publish a poetry book: be patient.

Most poetry book publishers abide by the following definition: a poetry book is any collection of poems longer than 48 pages. There’s no standard for how many poems go into a collection; it’s much more important that the collection feels “finished” to the poet.

Poetry book publishers often define a poetry book as any collection of poems longer than 48 pages.

With that said, feel free to experiment with length and content while writing a poetry book. You could, theoretically, publish a book of 3 16-page poems, or something similarly eccentric!

A poetry chapbook—in contrast to modern poetry books—is a collection of poems under 48 pages in length. Because of this page restraint, poetry chapbooks are often thematic and dwell upon a small group of topics; they are rarely narrative in nature. Everything we discuss about how to write a poetry book applies to chapbooks as well.

A poetry chapbook—in contrast to modern poetry books—is a collection of poems under 48 pages in length.

Often, a poet will publish a chapbook before they publish a full length collection (though they don’t have to). In the publishing world, a chapbook serves as a “sample” of a poet’s potential. If the chapbook is well-received, then that poet is more likely to publish a full-length collection in the future. The poet might also publish poems in the full-length collection that were first featured in their chapbook.

Often, a poet will publish a chapbook before they publish a full length collection.

Instead of writing a poetry book, most modern poets begin their publishing journey with a chapbook. Melissa Lozada-Oliva and Olivia Gatwood both published chapbooks through Button Poetry, which gave both poets an opportunity to tour and sell those books across the U.S. As a result, Gatwood has a new full-length collection , and MLO published a novel in verse .

In other words, how do you approach crafting a poetry manuscript? This is probably the trickiest part about assembling a collection of poetry. Like much of creative writing, there’s no formula for how to write a poetry book.

Many new poetry books do follow a theme . Collections about love, death, grief, and oppression certainly populate the poetry shelves of bookstores. However, a theme is only one way of connecting poems together. A poetry collection doesn’t need to be about something; the poems just need some sort of connecting thread.

A poetry collection doesn’t need to be about something; the poems just need some sort of connecting thread.

For example, a collection can be centered around poetry form . Every poem in Terrance Hayes’ collection American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin is, as you can guess, an American Sonnet. Hayes’ poems range from the political to the romantic, but all of them are united in form and in motive.

Poetry can also tell a story. Anne Carson’s lyrical poems in Autobiography of Red tell the story of Geryon, a monster of Greek myth re-imagined as the protagonist of a queer Bildungsroman. Carson’s poems are haunting, lucid, and wonderfully absurd, pushing the boundaries of what a poetry collection can accomplish. Ilya Kaminsky does something similar in Deaf Republic , a poetry collection about a fictional town under occupation. Kaminsky’s collection is at once a celebration of humankind’s resilience and a stark warning against totalitarianism, with each poem stacked off each other like cards in a deck.

Likewise, Danez Smith’s collection Don’t Call Us Dead centers around the theme of kaleidoscopic identities, and the collection begins in story. The first third of the book consists of poems searching for a “Heaven for black boys”—a space of respite, a land “that loves [its people] back.” After this first section, the rest of the poems examine Smith’s other identities, uncovering the experience of being black, HIV-positive, and genderqueer.

And, yes, many modern poetry books do follow a theme. The poems of a collection are often united by topic. Louise Gluck’s collection Wild Iris dwells on nature, existence, and the cycle of life; Richard Siken’s collection Crush tells heartfelt stories about queer desire and loss. Recently, I read sam sax’s new collection  Pig ,  a collection of poems that are thematically, metaphorically, or quite literally concerned with pigs. (It’s phenomenal.)

Many poets center their collections on identity and personal experience, and through a combination of wit, authenticity, and the building blocks of poetry , your collection will certainly achieve the same.

Most new poetry books don’t follow a linear narrative structure, so ordering the poems in a collection can prove challenging.

When thinking about the composition of a poetry book, remember the Five E’s:

  • Enmeshment: Do the poems feel related to each other? Can you explain why one poem follows or precedes another?
  • Evenness: Do the poems feel evenly spread out? Or does one part of the manuscript feel “better written” than another part?
  • Evolution: Does the subject matter change and grow overtime? Does the speaker come to new revelations? Or do ideas merely repeat themselves in parallel ways?
  • Experience: Do these poems offer new experiences for the reader? Will the reader’s understanding of the world be challenged, enriched, or improved?
  • Experimentation: Do these poems play with words, forms, and structures? Do they seek new and inventive uses of language?

The order of poems in a modern poetry book should accomplish these five tasks. If you feel that yours does, you’re ready to start formatting and submitting your manuscript! For more on how to write a poetry book, take a look at Caitlin Scarano’s course Putting It All Together . 

If you’ve finished writing a poetry book, this is your next step. Manuscript formatting is an essential part of learning how to write a poetry book. Take a look at our article on poetry manuscript formatting below. Additionally, you can download a pre-edited poetry manuscript at our resources page.

https://writers.com/poetry-manuscript-format

Just like learning how to write a poetry book, we’ll break down learning how to publish a poetry book into a few different facets. First, it’s important to know a bit about the world of poetry book publishers.

You know how people joke about poets not making any money? It stings a little, but it’s true—publishers do not have a whole lot of money for poets. Most new poetry books are published by independent presses, which have a small budget for acquiring new works. Poetry books have a smaller readership than fiction and nonfiction titles, so for a press to accept a poetry manuscript, that manuscript needs to have strong appeal towards the publisher’s readership.

If you’re eyeing an indie press, take a look at the previous titles they’ve published, as this can help gauge their interests in poetry, their diet for experimentation, and what their readership expects from the press.

Poets have two primary methods of publishing their poetry books:

  • Contests: Poetry book publishers will often run annual contests. The contest is often helmed by a well-regarded poet who judges the finalists and selects one (sometimes more) collection to be published. The winner of this contest typically wins a small award, rarely more than $1,000. 
  • Open reading periods: Publishers routinely have periods where they accept new manuscripts. These periods are judged by the members of the publishing house themselves, and the publishers might accept 1 manuscript, 10, or none at all—it all depends on what they’re looking for. 

Note that most contests, as well as many open reading periods, require the poet to pay a reader’s fee or contest entry fee. These fees are typically between $15-$30. 

Do poets ever get a payday? Of course—just don’t expect six-figure book deals. The only publishers who can afford expensive book titles are the Big 5 (Penguin, MacMillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster). These publishers will only acquire poetry books from well-known poets, so unless you’re the U.S. Poet Laureate or a social media mogul , you won’t have much luck with these companies.

Nonetheless, building an audience for yourself as a poet and working with the right publisher will yield successful book launches, which are a vital part of sustaining your career as an author. But what are publishers looking for?

Indie book publishers don’t have much money to risk, so they’re likely to publish titles that are easy for the company to market. As a result, book publishers tend to carve certain niches in the poetry world.

How do you learn about a publisher’s marketing base? Well, you can’t, really. But you can make inferences based on the titles you read and the book publisher’s digital presence.

For example, Graywolf Press is known for publishing experimental, experiential poetry. Many of its titles are tinged with social activism, and it has the readership to match this interest: its poetic ranks include slam poets, political activists, and educators, as well as plenty of poets with degrees in English. Note the press’ mission statement : to produce “works of literature [that] nourish the spirit” from “underrepresented and diverse voices.” This tells you everything about the quality of work Graywolf expects and the voice they tend to publish; if you think you meet these expectations, you might want to submit to them!

Academic presses, which we’ll include as a subgroup of indie publishers, tend to attract academic poets. Thus, they expect a high level of attention and rigor towards the more scholarly facets of poetry: form, vocabulary, etc. Take a look at some recent publications by Yale University Press . The titles and subject matter of their poetry books tend to be erudite and didactic, and many of the names in their Younger Poets series have become celebrated in the poetry community.

Before you submit your manuscript to poetry book publishers, try to tick all of these boxes:

Here are yes or no questions that help you know if your poetry book is ready to submit to publishers or contests:

  • Are you confident in the manuscript? (See: The 5 E’s)
  • Have you bought and read at least 1 poetry book from this publisher?
  • Some considerations: Subject matter, tone of voice, vocabulary
  • Does your manuscript meet the publisher’s expectations? (These are usually included in the contest details).
  • Is your manuscript properly formatted? The publisher may reject your work if it’s rife with formatting errors.

One thing we didn’t include on this checklist is the need for a social media following. Most modern poetry book competitions are judged blindly, meaning the manuscript reviewers choose a title without looking at the poet’s name. If you’re considering pitching a poetry book to an agent (which we discuss in a bit), having a following can help support your chances of getting published, since there’s a better chance that your book will be commercially successful.

Rather than pore through the many poetry book publishers currently accepting titles, it will be much easier to send you towards directories that know way more than we do.

Directories for chapbook and manuscript contests:

Poets & Writers

Ardor Lit Mag

Submittable

Directories for publishers seeking manuscripts:

Publishers Archive

Community of Literary Magazines and Presses

TCK Publishing

Directories for poetry agents:

Poets & Writers  

Directory of Literary Agents (requires sign-up)

Miscellaneous :

The John Fox

The short answer is no. Few literary agents represent poets because, again, there’s little money in poetry. As a result, the poet is often their own representative, which is why many poets get their start by submitting to chapbook and manuscript contests.

The short answer is no. In fact, few literary agents represent poets.

Of course, poetry agents do exist. However, like book publishers, agents are wary of signing with new poets, unless that poet can vouch for their future literary success (previous publications, social media following, etc.). If you want to publish with the Big 5, or even with some independent publishers like Graywolf, an agent is often necessary.

Recruiting an agent has its own requirements. Reader’s Digest breaks it down pretty well at this article , but in short, you likely need to submit a query letter to the agent. This is your time to sell yourself as a writer. Lead with your best foot forward, and if an agent is looking to acquire new talent, they may just acquire you.

Self-publishing is an optional route for those learning how to publish a poetry book. Companies like Lulu , Kindle Direct Publishing , and Ingram Spark have carved a niche in the book publishing industry, allowing many poets to circumvent the traditional publishing space and put their own words in print.

Take a look at our article on self-publishing with Amazon below.

https://writers.com/self-publishing-on-amazon-pros-and-cons

In short, self-publishing is a viable option, but if you want it to be fiscally successful, you need a healthy mix of marketing savvy, business acumen, and patience.

To be frank: it is ridiculously hard for poets to get their poetry books published. There are thousands of poets with incredibly well-written manuscripts, and very few publishers able to accept those manuscripts. To give you an example: In 2023, Scribner held an open reading period, where poets could submit their manuscripts for free to the press. Submissions were capped at 300 entries. The submission window closed in under 3 minutes. 

Read that again: 300 poets submitted to Scribner in under 3 minutes. Thousands more were trying to get their manuscripts in when the window closed.  That is how scarce the publishing opportunities are, versus how many poets have collections they’re ready to see in print. 

I recently attended the AWP conference in Kansas City, and I went to a panel on 4 debut poets’ experiences publishing their first collections. These poets, each of whom had celebrated collections and connections to the literary world, struggled for years, if not decades, to get their first collections in print. And these are poets who received their MFAs or Ph.Ds in poetry! 

This isn’t to say that your collection is destined to flounder. Rather, it’s to encourage you to be patient and be enterprising. Submit to as many contests and open reading periods as your time and budget allow; in the meantime, work on publishing your poems in journals , and build an audience for yourself as a poet. Enmesh yourself in the community of poets—you might even find new publication opportunities this way. And, don’t be elitist about where you publish. It is much more important to publish with a press that cares for your work and wants to see it be successful in the world, rather than reserve your book for a publisher that might have a big name attached to it. We’re not in this for the money or the fame, we’re in it for the love of the craft. 

The poetry book is just one marker of many in our careers as poets, and while the journey to publication might be frustrating, it will happen with a mix of diligence, grace, and persistence. You got this!

Learn How to Write a Poetry Book at Writers.com!

Whether you need help writing a poetry book or you’re ready to get it published, Writers.com has the resources to make it happen. Take a look at our upcoming poetry courses , and join our Facebook group for community news and feedback.

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Sean Glatch

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This seems to be about self-publishing. Is it? Do you cover anything about getting work into print, so that builds into a chapbook or book?

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Thank you for writing, Laura! Here’s an article on places to submit individual poems: https://writers.com/best-places-submit-poetry-online . The text above does discuss having a poetry book conventionally published, as well.

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Any tips on marketing a self-published Amazon ebook for free apart from social media? I have got my book Embracing Life by Shreya Ghosh published but don’t know how to promote it for free apart from on my social media.

[…] where to start? Here’s a little how-to guide, and some ideas where to submit your manuscript:How to publish a poetry bookWhere to submit the manuscriptContest deadlines – calendar 2021The book […]

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So I’m wondering – if you publish your own book, is it acceptable etiquete to publish your poems online and build up a base of readers beforehand? Or does that violate the guidelines of this article, where you should never go public with your work?

Also, if you publish independently, do you have intellectual rights to your work? Do publishers generally retain intellectual rights?

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Not only is that acceptable, it’s encouraged! Publishing in literary journals can accomplish two things. 1) It helps you build a reader base, connecting you with other poets and admirers of the form. 2) It gives you a space to promote your book after it’s published. Some literary journals will do interviews with their published poets when a poet has a book come out; even if they don’t do this, you might get journals to tweet about your book.

In short, do everything you can to build a readership, including publishing. Also try to have some form of a social media presence, if you can. And be sure to thank those literary journals in the acknowledgments section!

In general, self-published authors retain intellectual property rights over their work, though be aware that you still forfeit certain rights depending on the publisher. If you self-publish through Amazon, for example, and you get an ISBN for your book, you will not be allowed to remove the book from their marketplace or database, you can only prevent people from buying new copies.

With mainstream publishers, the share of intellectual property rights is determined by the contract you sign with them.

I hope this answers your questions. Best of luck publishing your poetry book!

Warmest, Sean Glatch

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I have been writing poetry for a good number of years now, with greater than 99% of them being of a spiritual content. I have a list of about 80 people that I share my poems with, who in turn, have their circle of friends that they share with. I have been encouraged to publish my poems but I must admit, although I have toyed with the idea, figuring out how to do this has become quite overwhelming. Any advice would be appreciated. I have no clue as to what to do!!

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Did you ever get a reply?

I forgot to ask; Is it recommended to have other poets critique my work to get a feel as to whether it even merits publishing? Thanks

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Siouxland Families

On Common Ground: Loess Hills anthology book review

What is on common ground .

On Common Ground is a collection of essays, poetry, art, and all about the Loess Hills created by experts and creatives from a wide range of fields after a trip to the Loess Hills together in 2021. The participants include writers, artists, theologians, biologists, and more, who each viewed the Loess Hills through the lens of their own expertise and life experiences. The resulting works share each contributor's unique perspective on the Loess Hills.  Some are celebratory, other mournful, and many have a conservation element. For those who may not know or remember, loess is a deposit of ancient glacial silt that forms hills, and here in western Iowa, we have the most extensive loess hills in the world other than a remote part of China. I think it's great to see such an insightful work devoted to this geological treasure. On Common Ground was edited by Drs. Ryan Allen and Brian T. Hazlett, and I think perhaps Dr. Allen said it best in his epilogue: "At the heart of the  On Common Ground experience is a realization that there is wisdom in collaboration."

On Common Ground is published by Ice Cube Press , an independent publisher based in North Liberty, Iowa. 

Contributors to  On Common Ground

On Common Ground is edited by Ryan Allen and Brian T. Hazlett

Ryan Allen is an assistant professor of English and writing and Brian T. Hazlett is a biology professor, both at Briar Cliff University here in Sioux City.

On Common Ground  also includes pieces from 

  • Kristen Drahos, assistant professor of theology at Baylor University
  • Jim Helfers, a literature professor from Grand Canyon University
  • Patrick Hicks, a professor of creative writing and literature and writer-in-residence at Augustana University
  • Mike Langley, a local musician and member of the Iowa Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame
  • Melanie Krieps Mergen, a writer, musician, and Briar Cliff alum
  • Vincent Miller, chair of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton
  • Scott R. Moats, a biologist who lives at Broken Kettle Grasslands and serves the Nature Conservancy as their Iowa and Missouri Fire Manager and Iowa director of Stewardship
  • Cornelia F. Mutel, an ecologist and writer of many works including the iconic Fragile Giants
  • Dan O'Brien, a wildlife biologist, rancher, and award-winning writer
  • Aric Michael Ping, a conservationist who works in ecological management
  • John T. Price, a professor at University of Nebraska Omaha, director of his English Dept's Creative Nonfiction Writing Program, writer, and editor of The Tallgrass Prairie Reader
  • James Calvin Schaap, a writer and retired Dordt University professor 
  • Daryl Smith, one of the founders of the University of Northern Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center
  • Jerry Wilson, a writer of many works, former editor of South Dakota Magazine , and retired teacher
  • Norma Clark Wilson, a poet, editor, essayist, and University of South Dakota English Professor Emerita
  • Nan Wilson, a noted regional artist
  • William M. Zales, a retired professor who now lives in the Loess Hills

Phew! That's quite an impressive collection of thinkers and creators! (note: these are based on their author bios in the book. Many of them have doctoral degrees but chose not to include the title Dr. in their bios so I didn't use them either.)

How to get On Common Ground

On Common Ground: Learning and Living in the Loess Hills is available on (affiliate link:) Amazon and other online retailers. It is also available in store at Book People in Sioux City, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, and is likely to be available at other bookstores and gift shops around Iowa that sell books by local authors.

There are also some in-person events celebrating the book, and some copies of the book are likely to be available at those events:

  • Thursday, August 24th, 2023 at 7pm at Briar Cliff University in the St. Francis Assisi Room
  • Saturday, August 26th, 2023 from noon to 2pm, at Book People on Hamilton Boulevard 

I really encourage you to go to these events if you're at all interested--it takes a lot of work to write a book and it is so heartening to reach that finish line of having it published and out to the public, and one of the best parts is definitely getting to go celebrate your book at public events! 

Congratulations and well done to all the contributors to On Common Ground: Learning and Living in the Loess Hills . I definitely think this is an important book that furthers the literature on the Loess Hills, plus an enjoyable and thought-provoking read for anyone interested. 

in background, a topographic map of the Loess Hills. In foreground, book title

John Cooper Clarke, photographed last month with a quill and notebook.

‘I write all my poems with a quill by candlelight’: John Cooper Clarke on the joy of life without tech

The punk poet has no smartphone, no email, not even a computer. Everyone should try it, he says

B ack in the day, I used to feel a degree of sympathy for those who had been ­compelled to become computer ­literate. I would see these guys in the city, ­struggling home with a rucksack loaded with technology, ruining the line of their Hugo Boss suit. It looked like a ball and chain to me. So I stayed away. Whenever anyone mentioned ­computers, I would say: “What do I need a computer for? I’m a poet.”

Later, when mobile phones came out, I was sitting on public transport next to two girls when I heard one of them say to the other: “My boss has just bought me a new mobile phone.” I thought, yeah, I bet he has. If he’d put an iron collar around your neck, would you be happy about that, too?

The adoption of mobile phones is probably the moment I truly drifted away from technology. At first people said they admired me, as though it was some sort of principled position I was taking. I thought, yeah, you’re admiring me now, but further down the line it’s going to be, “Who the fuck do you think you are to not have a mobile phone?” And so it proved. Their love soon turned to hate.

The last piece of technology I got involved with was a DVD player. After that, I decided I didn’t need any more machinery in my life. I write all my poems with a quill – a beautiful thing with a calligrapher’s nib – and parchment by candlelight. The quill was originally a prop for a photoshoot I was doing, but they let me keep it, along with a pot of ink. I don’t have a typewriter or a computer, I don’t own a mobile phone, and it’s not possible to send me an email. If someone needs me, they can call my landline. I’m usually in the house anyway – it’s not as if I’m living off-grid.

When I was a teenager, I quite liked the idea of being the next Mickey Spillane, the great American crime writer. But I’ve had to abandon that idea. If I tried to write a detective story set in the modern day, people would be like, “What’s he running up there for? Why didn’t he just text him? What’s he going in a phone booth for? Why didn’t he Google him on his Skype?”

Not all change is for the better. Progress is great, but I often want to say, “You can stop there now.” That’s the nature of progress, isn’t it? It always goes on longer than it’s needed. Who on earth asked for controls on everything to be touch sensitive?

Most of my music is on cassette tape now, because the best place to listen to music is in the car. I’ve got a ghetto blaster in every room at home. I’ve also got a TV, a VHS player and a spare VHS player in the shed. I’ve got three large chests of drawers containing all the videos that I’ve recorded, along with some stuff I forgot to return to Blockbuster in 1989 such as The Terminator.

Staying away from technological development was never a political decision, or even a conscious one. I’m not convinced I made the right choice, because I suffer the thousand daily punishments visited upon the analogue community. Every day it’s, “Go to our app!” or, “Visit our website!” At my time of life, you have to deal with the medical authorities regularly and just you try talking to a flesh-and-blood person. It’s impossible.

I don’t like the “cashless society”, either. I spent 40 years trying to make some money from this poetry lark, and the minute I get any, suddenly nobody wants it. Even my bank has moved to another town. I have to get a cab there, a 70-quid round trip, just to get my own money. But I won’t bank online. You hear horror stories about large sums of money going missing. When you get money it’s supposed to be the end of your worries, not the beginning of a whole new set of worse ones.

I’d hate for anyone to go running away with the idea that I’m some sort of social justice warrior, but technology seems to have a detrimental effect on those struggling in society. How does it impinge on the mendicants, for instance? If nobody has any spare change, how does your regular fella living in a cardboard box get by?

Another thing I don’t like to see is the checkout workers at Tesco being rendered unemployed by those do-it-yourself tills. People talk about the speed of technology, but what has it actually sped up? Back in the day, if there was a queue at the newsagent and you were on your way to work, you could grab your paper, run to the front of the queue and leave your ninepence on the counter: “Daily Guardian, mate, there it is.” Now you’ve got to stand in line while someone takes 20 minutes to self-scan every single item. I’m glad people live longer these days, because there are so many more things that you have to waste your time doing.

For me, it’s always been a case of computer or career. I’d never get any work done! I know this because my daughter has a computer. I didn’t want to get her one, but at the same time you never want to foist your prejudices on your child. She’d have been the only person in her class at school without one.

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John Cooper Clarke, photographed at BBC Maida Vale studios in west London, 31 January 2023

Anyway, when she got this computer she said, “You should get one, too, Dad, you’d really like it.” I said, “I know I would – that’s the problem.” I wanted to see how good they really were, so I said to her, “Can you get me Dion and the Belmonts? Let’s see how long that takes you.” Three seconds later and Runaround Sue’s playing. That’s why I can’t have a computer. It would be too easy to get distracted. You’d find me dead six weeks later, buried under a pile of pizza boxes.

I’m bad enough with the TV. I’ve never really gotten over the television, if I’m being honest. We’ve got Freeview and you’ve got about 800 channels. I like those shows: Bangers & Cash or Wheeler Dealers. And I like Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys and Great American Railroad Journeys. You learn more in half an hour with that guy than you do with 10 years at school. (An amazing reinvention of a person, Portillo.)

I hear some people pay a lot of money these days to go “off-grid”. I imagine it as some kind of retreat that’s got a religious, Zen Buddhist vibe about it; a step in another dimension for a little while. I’m not like that. I’m a big fan of electricity, for example. I enjoy a brief power cut, just to remind those gung-ho environmental fanatics what life without electricity would be like. If you abolished electricity, millions of people would die immediately. So 10 minutes without power is a healthy lesson for everybody. There are lots of other things about the modern world I like. They’d just discovered streptomycin when I was a sick kid with tuberculosis. And when I was younger, I really liked electric guitars; I used to play bass in a band. So I’m not one of these people who wishes I’d lived 200 years ago.

People’s natural skills have started to atrophy due to technology. I get asked, “What do you do when you’re out of the house without a mobile phone and you get lost?” Well, I don’t get lost. As long as you’ve got a tongue in your head, you’ll find your way. People have stopped talking to other people. Anyway, the only time I’m out of the house alone is when I ride my bike. Even that’s old school: a 1959 Hercules. I cycle to the bookies. There’s a lot of technology involved with betting now, but I prefer it as it used to be – knee-deep in cigarette ends and full of losers. My first job was as a bookies runner and so I was exposed, at a very early age, to the world of the degenerate gambler. I think that sort of protected me against becoming one.

That’s a problem with technology – you stop interacting with the real world. It gets rid of something we used to call a social life. Knocking on people’s doors. Meeting up in pubs. They go on a lot today about responsible drinking, but neighbourhood pubs used to enforce that. There’d be a pal of your dad’s in there saying, “You’ve had a few too many, kid, steady on – it’s still three hours till closing time.” Just subtle stuff like that – low-level checks that stopped you from becoming a housebound booze hound, sitting alone having a nervous breakdown while drinking hyper-potent cheap lager in front of a pornographic movie. People worry about technology in these grand, sci-fi terms, thinking that it could end the world. But there’s no point in looking towards a dystopian future. Just look around you. The nightmare is already upon us.

As told to Tim Jonze.

What, the new poetry collection from John Cooper Clarke, is out now, priced £16.99 (Picador). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply. Cooper Clarke tours his new show, Get Him While He’s Still Alive, around the UK from 5 March to 28 June .

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See Inside a New 'Dune' Book Featuring Poetry by Star Josh Brolin (Exclusive)

Its pages, a few of which were shared exclusively with PEOPLE, feature candid moments between director Denis Villeneuve, Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and more

Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty;Insight Editions

Just in time for Valentine's Day, actor and poet Josh Brolin has a new book out for Dune fans to add to their collection, Dune: Exposures .

The book, out today from Insight Editions, is a visual representation of the creative bond that formed between Director of Photography Greig Fraser and Josh Brolin, who plays Warmaster Gurney Halleck in Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two . The first installment of the sci-fi saga based on the book series by Frank Herbert hit theaters in 2021 and earned the film six Oscars. The second film comes out March 1.

Photos by Greig Fraser, Writing by Josh Brolin

According to a statement shared with PEOPLE, Dune: Exposures collects hundreds of "intimate, evocative photographs" taken by Fraser on the sets of Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two . The book is comprised of candid, unposed images taken by Fraser on set, accompanied by lyrical, poetic writing by Brolin.

Its pages, a few of which were shared exclusively with PEOPLE, feature candid moments between director Denis Villeneuve and cast members like Timothée Chalamet , Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya and Javier Bardem .

"Stark shots of iconic characters immersed in their cinematic worlds share space with candid, unmannered photos of actors and craftspeople at work, all as Brolin’s spare, poetic writing weaves throughout," the publisher says. "Simply put, this book is as close as one can get to being on set."

Dune: Exposures will give fans of the film and Frank Herbert’s saga a peek behind the scenes of making the movie, perfect for film and photography aficionados.

For poetry fans, Brolin's words will bring the imagery to life. And for all readers, the publisher calls the book "a moving and interior chronicle of a fleetingly rare creative bond shared by two practitioners at the heights of their respective crafts."

The book joins Insight Editions’ previous Dune titles, Dune: Part One, The Photography ; The Art and Soul of Dune  and its sequel  The Art and Soul of Dune: Part Two .

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A Long-Forgotten TV Script by Rachel Carson Is Now a Picture Book

In “Something About the Sky,” the National Book Award-winning marine biologist brings her signature sense of wonder to the science of clouds.

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A cut-paper and sumi ink illustration shows a young boy watching a small plane as it soars through the sky trailing cirrus clouds that look like jet stream. The silhouetted boy, the plane and the clouds are cut from black and white paper. The bright sky is rendered with blue ink that fades dark to light from top to bottom.

By Maria Popova

Maria Popova, the creator of TheMarginalian.org and the author of the forthcoming “The Universe in Verse: 15 Windows on Wonder Through Science and Poetry,” has written about Rachel Carson in her book “Figuring.”

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SOMETHING ABOUT THE SKY , by Rachel Carson. Illustrated by Nikki McClure.

A cloud is a spell against indifference, an emblem of the water cycle that makes this planet a living world capable of trees and tenderness, a great cosmic gasp at the improbability that such a world exists, that across the cold expanse of space-time, strewn with billions upon billions of other star systems, there is nothing like it as far as we yet know.

Clouds are almost as old as this world, born when primordial volcanoes first exhaled the chemistry of the molten planet into the sky, but their science is younger than the steam engine. At the dawn of the 19th century, the chemist and amateur meteorologist Luke Howard, still in his 20s, noticed that clouds form in particular shapes under particular conditions. Applying the principles of the newly popular Linnaean taxonomy of the living world to clouds, he named the three main classes cumulus , stratus and cirrus , then braided them into sub-taxonomies.

When a German translation reached Goethe, the polymathic poet with a passion for morphology was so inspired that he sent fan mail to the young man who “distinguished cloud from cloud,” then composed a suite of verses about the main classes. It was Goethe’s poetry, translating the lexicon of an obscure science into the language of wonder, that popularized the cloud names we use today.

A century and a half later, six years before Rachel Carson awakened the modern ecological conscience with her book “Silent Spring” and four years after “The Sea Around Us” earned her the National Book Award (whose judges described it as “a work of scientific accuracy presented with poetic imagination”), the television program “Omnibus” approached her to write “something about the sky,” in response to a request from a young viewer.

This became the title of the segment that aired on March 11, 1956 — a soulful serenade to the science of clouds, emanating from Carson’s credo that “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.”

Although celebrated for her books about the sea, Carson had begun her literary career with an eye to the sky.

She was only 11 when her story “A Battle in the Clouds” — inspired by her brother’s time in the Army Air Service during World War I — was published in the popular young people’s magazine St. Nicholas, where the early writings of Edna St. Vincent Millay, F. Scott Fitzgerald and E.E. Cummings also appeared. She eventually enrolled at Pennsylvania Women’s College, intent on majoring in English.

And then, the way all great transformations slip in through the back door of the mansion of our plans, her life took a turn that shaped her future and the history of literature.

To meet the school’s science requirement, Carson took an introductory biology course. She found herself enchanted by the subject and changed her major.

But she never lost her love of literature. “I have always wanted to write,” Carson told her lab partner late one night. “Biology has given me something to write about.”

She was also writing poetry, submitting it to various magazines and receiving rejection slip after rejection slip. Somewhere along the way — training at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, writing reports her boss deemed far too lyrical for a government publication and encouraged her to submit to The Atlantic Monthly — Carson realized that poetry lives in innumerable guises beyond verse.

In 1952, she would rise from the table she shared with the poet Marianne Moore to receive her National Book Award with these words: “The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.”

If there was poetry in her writing, Carson believed, it was not because she “deliberately put it there” but because no one could write truthfully about nature “and leave out the poetry.”

It was a radical idea — that truth and beauty are not in rivalry but in reciprocity, that to write about science with feeling is not to diminish its authority but to deepen it. Carson was modeling a new possibility for generations of writers to come, blurring the line between where science ends and poetry begins.

That was the ethos she took to her “Omnibus” assignment about “the writing of the wind on the sky,” detailing the science of each of the main cloud classes and celebrating them as “the cosmic symbols of a process without which life itself could not exist on earth.”

After coming upon fragments of Carson’s long-lost television script via Orion magazine, the artist Nikki McClure — who grew up immersed in nature, worked for a while at the Department of Ecology and finds daily delight in watching birds under the cedar canopy by her home — was moved to track down the complete original and bring it to life in lyrical illustrations.

Known for her singular cut-paper art, with its stark contrasts and sharp contours, she embraced the creative challenge of finding a whole new technique in order to channel the softness of the sky.

Using paper from a “long-ago” trip to Japan and sumi ink she freely applied with brushes, she let the gentle work of gravity and fluid dynamics pool and fade the mostly blue and black hues into textured layers — a process of “possibility and chance.”

Then, as she recounts in an illustrator’s note at the back of the book, she “cut images with the paper, not just from it”: “The paper and I had a conversation about what might happen.”

What emerges is a kind of tender visual poem, as boldly defiant of category as Carson’s writing.

Although Carson never wrote explicitly for children, she wrote in the language of children: wonder.

Less than a year after “Something About the Sky” aired on “Omnibus,” Carson took over the care of her orphaned grandnephew, Roger, whom she would soon legally adopt. (He’s the small boy romping across McClure’s illustrations.) In what began as an article for Woman’s Home Companion and was later expanded into her posthumously published book “The Sense of Wonder,” she wrote:

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

SOMETHING ABOUT THE SKY | By Rachel Carson | Illustrated by Nikki McClure | Candlewick Studio | 56 pp. | $19.99 | Ages 5 to 8

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Even in countries where homophobia is pervasive and same-sex relationships are illegal, queer African writers are pushing boundaries , finding an audience and winning awards.

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