Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Poetry Handbook” as Want to Read:
A Poetry Handbook
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Poetry Handbook

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  2,273 ratings  ·  204 reviews
With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). Index.
Paperback, 130 pages
Published August 15th 1994 by Mariner Books
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Poetry Handbook, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Poetry Handbook

The Crafty Poet by Diane LockwardThe Triggering Town by Richard HugoLetters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria RilkeThe Poet's Companion by Kim AddonizioIn the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit
Best Books on Writing Poetry
6th out of 43 books — 67 voters
A World of Verse by Christopher  ShieldsMeeting With Christ and Other Poems by Deepak ChaswalIcarus and Other Poems by Pradeep ChaswalDuino Elegies by Rainer Maria RilkeThe Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke
Poetry 101
7th out of 58 books — 44 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Erin Stile
Mary Oliver remains beyond doubt one of the richest souls of poetry in contemporary Western culture, a strongly needed antidote to the rapaciousness and heartlessness of our society. I came to this book curious as to how someone so deeply enmeshed in the poetry of life would discuss the art of poetry-writing. (I hate to say "techniques" or "mechanics," words that so demean what fine poets do--although I grant that "art" itself derives from the same root as "artifice.") The prose is as clear and ...more
William Hurst
Mary Oliver is known for her blend of mysticism with Whitman's pastoral fixation. In that vein, this book on the craft of poetry does not disappoint. While other craft books may be more practical (such as the ever-popular The Poet's Companion), A Poetry Handbook probes deeper into the indefinable aspects of verse.

Some will tire of this quickly. Why write a book about the unnameable aspects of the art? Oliver's handbook is necessary because while skilled poets may see the strings of talent, beaut
The best little book on poetry I've come across. Oliver is a master of beautiful, unshowy simplicity. This book covers the basics of poetry, including sound, diction, tone, meter, rhyme, and imagery, and it explains in clear terms why each component is important, and says at least a thing or two about how to do it "right" (well?) and "wrong" (poorly?). Oliver incorporates good examples and useful quotations. The book is true pleasure: wise, measured, clear.
Feb 02, 2011 Shauna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who want to refresh their knowledge of poetry
Recommended to Shauna by: Emily Jiang
This book does exactly what you'd want an introductory book on writing poetry to do: It briefly (120 pages) reviews the basics of poetry, defines many poetry terms, introduces the reader to some popular meters, and uses real poems for examples.

I had learned much of this information decades ago in high school, but had not realized it until I started reading this book and realized I had come across this info before. I found it an excellent refresher for someone who wants to try their hand at poet
Perhaps my expectations were too high, since I admire Mary Oliver’s poetry so much. It was probably naïve to think she could pass along some of her genius to others in a handbook. However, the book could at least have had more depth, more exercises, and been more entertaining. This is a book for a novice and much too basic for me (yes, I know novices need a book that doesn’t overwhelm them). I was also recently spoiled by Stephen Fry’s thorough, sometimes too thorough, handbook, The Ode Less Tra ...more
Richelle Wilson
Feb 18, 2013 Richelle Wilson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every lover of beautiful
A Poetry Handbook is something I wish I had read a lot earlier in my career as a student of literature, to say nothing of the tentative ventures I’ve made into writing poetry since I was young. A lot of people say this book is a good reiteration of things they learned in their college classes, but I sincerely think it’s an introduction we all need. I never learned about vowel and consonant sounds in my poetry seminars. Maybe somewhere down the line a professor glossed over the principles of scan ...more
This book is delightful and interesting to read, despite being a type of textbook or "bible" for poetry. I enjoyed Mary Oliver's descriptions and discection of sounds, and how they are used to magnify thoughts and messages within poetry or in any written piece. Her insight into the use of certain letters to convey feelings and/or tone is fascinating, and extremely helpful for the budding writer. Mary Oliver uses the same mechanisms she describes within the book itself, which makes for pleasant r ...more
Bill Martin
For the Lit. MFA, Mary Oliver's compact handbook may not offer an avalanche of commendable qualities. But for those of us without the luxury of formal training or professional mentoring, those who endeavor to become better readers of poetry as well as novices in the craft, A Poetry Handbook should fit in a welcome spot on our shelves and furnish our minds with a quarry of solid principles, foundation stones to build on.

I read the less-than-150-page text over a weekend. I have the feeling that I
I was handed this book as I was soaking my feet in water to avoid an infected toe. It's really much more interesting than that, however, and explains, poetically, the essential tools used by the author and others to write poetry. It goes through each of the different processes and devices but does so in a manner that isn't repetitive or tedious. It is one of the most well-written books I have read.
If I hadn't looked at the copyright, I would have thought this gem was a recent work of Oliver's. She is so wise and informative and authentic in this short guide, and she speaks to the reader as if they are one of her students, a person she wishes to mentor. I guffawed and nodded in agreement at some of her honest advice. For example, she says calls poetic diction "a collection of real clunkers. It is language that is stale, mirthful when it does not mean to be, and empty. Avoid it." Bazinga! O ...more
Of course I'm a fan of everything Mary Oliver writes, so she is an excellent writer not only of but also on poetry. Her explanation on why Whitman is but one (oft-cited) example of free verse but is certainly not the last word in this dynamic form is itself a point worth heeding and one worth the the effort of the time it would take you to read this brief little volume. This example in particular showcases her lucidity and exemplary teaching style, which is shown again and again throughout.
This is the poetry writer's bible. Not only is the content absolutely comprehensive and presented in a simple and beautifully organized manner, but it's written by a true poet. And it shows in her writing. This is a book on poetry written poetically. If you want to learn to write poetry or improve your poetry, pick up this book first, then read others if you feel you need to. But you'll find you keep going back to this one. I sometimes pick this book up just to read something beautiful, to be in ...more
Bill Keefe
If you really enjoy reading poetry (I do) and you believe that learning more about the craft of poetry writing will enhance your enjoyment (I do), then you will want to read this book.

In concise format Mary Oliver introduces and illustrates the tools of the trade and reveals the skeleton upon which the poet's inspiration hangs. I learned so much (I knew so little), and had fun playing with the many short, illustrative examples of style and rhythm and rhyme.

I doubt this book covers the waterfront
I usually read books like these more for the poetry than for the advice and this one was a little short on the poetry. Short in general, so a quick read.
It didn't make me want to lock myself in a room and start, so, while it was clear and concise, I'm only giving it 3 stars.
Not that my opinion matters.
Jan Duncan-O'Neal
Feb 16, 2008 Jan Duncan-O'Neal rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jan by: poets
Shelves: writing
While Oliver knows her stuff and is respected, I don't find passion in this slim handbook as I do in other books in the genre such as Ted Kooser's Poetry Home Repair Manual or Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem. The sample poems she includes are not fully explored or mined as I would have hoped.
Fernando Fernández
If you have not taken a starters course on poetic 'devices', technical resources and so on, this book will provide you with some useful info, but later you will need to unlearn some of it. My issue with this book is that, however refreshing (it's great that it makes some things simple), the approach it takes at poetry lacks reflection, a historical, critical analysis of what is recollected. In other words, the concept of "a poetry handbook" is even more outrageous than using the cliche "in other ...more
Mary Oliver,

I think your soul is beautiful. Somehow, in reading your simple handbook I think I glimpsed your soul and I was moved and changed. I am glad that I have this book where I can continually seek Mary's advice and counsel. I am new to writing poetry, but I have loved reading poetry for years. This little handbook gives me new ways of reading poetry and I hope will help me along as I try my own hand at writing it.

As a side note, I feel like as a society we should read more poetry. Somehow
Olga Hebert
I came across this book while browsing at the library. It's by Mary Oliver, and that gets it three stars before I even crack it open. It is a primer of the conventions of poetry. If you want to be able to tell a trochee from a spondee, you'll find that here. But it is also an essay on finding your own poetic voice through practice...practice reading poetry, practice writing poetry, practice paying attention to the world around us. This book is twenty years old, but I will get it for my personal ...more
Rob the Obscure
Brilliant insights from my favorite poet
Not a ground-breaking book, but a clear, skillful, personable take on, as Oliver puts it, "the part of the poem that is a written document, as opposed to a mystical document, which of course the poem is also."

Oliver handles the usual handbook topics--sound, figures of speech, lines, and so on--and her voice is distinctive, bracing but never strident, like a favorite teacher's...

She is wry and opinionated: A successful writing class is one "where no one feels that 'writer's block' is a high-prior
Feb 05, 2013 Maria rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mary Oliver fans
Shelves: poetry
I read this book a few times before.
After the inauguration I read an article asking why poetry matters. I couldn't answer that. At first I thought that it offers a channel of written/spoken textured expression for those of us who love words, but don’t want to write a novel or short story. I reopened this book for the answers as it is my go-to book for poetry-foundation answers.
Unfortunately, this is the first time I disagreed with Ms. Oliver. The poem she holds in high regard, “Stopping by Wood
John Paterson
An excellent book about writing poetry and with good advice for the novice (and experienced) poet, who is encouraged to follow a course of study including the craft and history of poetry.

"It has always seemed to me curious that the instruction of poetry has followed a path different from the courses of study intended to develop talent in the field of music or the visual arts, where a step-by-step learning process is usual, and accepted as necessary."

The poet should not just develop a single sty
The technical information was a little too basic for me, but it was executed in a refreshingly non-pedantic way. For example, Oliver comes right out and admits that there are no clear-cut rules on how to scan certain lines.

Oliver's insights about writing are very sound to me, she specifically emphasizes exercise and imitation as vital for a beginning poet. However, the book could have gone into a little more detail about pretty much anything it mentions. This way, readers come away from the book
Elaine Nelson
I think there are lessons in life that I'm ready to absorb now that I couldn't 10 or 15 years ago. One of them is the role of craft & structure -- the formalities & technicalities -- in poetry. I've owned this book for quite a while, but this read is the first time that it resonated in a useful way.

Not that this book is overly formal, but it touches on scansion, which I've always had trouble with, and some of the other traditional aspects of poetry. It used to be that the stress symbols
Colleen Wainwright
Concise and useful, which is really everything a handbook should be. And it's really engaging in parts: the section on imagery is especially good, and in context, reading Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" brought me to tears, which is just what a good poem one is prepared to read well and properly should do.

But the sections on meter and line and sound had me drifting off. I get that it's foundational stuff, drier than metaphor, and a little hard to make lively on the page: my duty as reader-student
Feb 27, 2015 Jeff rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: wannabe poets who've never taken a lit class
Allow me to begin with Chez Neophyte's specialité: the mixed metaphors. "Getting Started" watered my desiccated soul. "Conclusion" nosed me out of the nest with good intentions and the belief that i might soar. The meat and potatoes of poetry's mechanics filling the space between those first and last chapters, respectively, provided little more than a refresher course. (ie, Every fledgling needs water. Flowers gotta learn to fly sometime. Nothing invigorates quite like a hearty squab and rosebud ...more
Mary Oliver is one of the more popular contemporary poets in the United States. Many Americans think she is all the beans and writes beautiful verse. Many Americans also believe in angels and think that Thomas Kinkade was a good painter. Why do these things happen? Because the educational system in America is designed to teach people how to get a job at McFuckers Emporium of Fuckery and the country is thus inhabited by great swathes of nincompoops who lack critical thinking skills.

Dr Seuss knew
What’s a Metric Foot?

Oliver, M. (1994). A poetry Handbook: A prose guide to understanding and writing poetry. New York: Harcourt Books.

I was looking for a quick, simple guide to understanding the rhythms of poetry, something like “Poetry For Dummies,” and there actually is such a book, but what I found in the bookstore instead is this excellent volume by Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award winner, Mary Oliver. It does not aim to be historically comprehensive, only a brief introduction
Stefani Akins
I wanted a book that would teach me about the very basic building blocks of poetry, and this book does exactly that. Written for both readers and writers of poetry, it provides a thorough introduction and well chosen examples. That said, I found it a bit dry in parts, not due to content but to style. If you could award half stars, I'd give it 3 1/2.
Mar 03, 2015 James rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2015
In this short book, Mary Oliver teaches a master class in the mechanics and process of poetry. Of course, it is difficult to write about the task as it will be different for every writer. She does an excellent job. She uses some beautiful poems for illustration purposes. The book can be useful for both writers and readers of poetry at any level.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets
  • The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry
  • The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach
  • Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
  • The Making of a Poem
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
  • The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide
  • The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
  • The Art of the Poetic Line
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry
  • Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry
  • Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse
  • Collected Poems
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • The Art of Description: World into Word
  • Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

“Mary Oliver. In a region that has produced most of the nation's poet laureates, it is risky to single out one fragile 71-year-old bard of Provincetown. But Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1983, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observati
More about Mary Oliver...
New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 A Thousand Mornings American Primitive Why I Wake Early Thirst

Share This Book

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” 295 likes
“The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers--has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.” 24 likes
More quotes…