So, my friend Andrew Selby asked me which books were helpful if one wanted to know more about writing and reading poetry. I gave him a detailed list, and he said I should post that list on my blog. So here it is!
The Ode Less Travelled – Stephen Fry. This book is utterly delightful. It’s much less “poetic theory” and much more “let’s learn to write poetry with a British Comedian”. Fry guides you through the basiscs and not-so-basics of writing traditional metric verse and isn’t shy about getting technical, making fun of you for being bored with it, and then making you write using the technique he just taught you.
How to Read a Poem – Terry Eagleton. Eagleton is on the other end of the spectrum from Fry when it comes to poetry books. This book is quite heavily drenched in literary and critical theory and how to apply it when reading poems, but Eagleton is an engaging writer and even in the first few pages I saw so much more about poetry than I had before.
You Must Revise your Life – William Stafford. Stafford isn’t a literary theorist, nor is he a comedian. He’s a poet through and through, and thus, in this collection of essays and poems, tries to paint a picture of what a poet’s life and practice should and can look like.
The Sounds of Poetry – Robert Pinsky. Pinsky, in my opinion, is a better theorist than he is a poet, and in this beautiful little book roots around in the roots of sound and meaning within poetry, hopefully forever changing the way that you hear and say words. This book can be tedious, especially if phonetics aren’t your cup of tea, but it’s quite rewarding.
The Writing Life – Annie Dillard. No list of books about poetry writing and reading could be complete without this masterpiece by Dillard. Every time I read her I fall in love—not necessarily with her, but with the world, with writing, with people, and with God. Here is a harrowing, humble, heartbreaking, and holy look at the joy and cost of living your life as a creator, as an artist. This book isn’t really fiction or nonfiction. It could be a book of poems, or it could be a memoir. I don’t even know what to call it other than one of the best books I’ve ever read. A warning though: this book is so good that you’ll want to read more of Dillard’s stuff, which turns out to be even better than this is. Then you will be lost forever and long for Dillard’s beauty in a parched world.