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Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse
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Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  743 ratings  ·  72 reviews
"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance," wrote Alexander Pope. "The dance," in the case of Oliver's brief and luminous book, refers to the interwoven pleasures of sound and sense to be found in some of the most celebrated and beautiful poems in the English language, from Shakespeare to Edna St. Vincent Millay to ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 27th 1998 by Mariner Books
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Chris I agree with Balaram. Rules of the Dance is a lesson in writing with rhythm and rhyme, even meter in non-metric verse. The last 80 pages are an…moreI agree with Balaram. Rules of the Dance is a lesson in writing with rhythm and rhyme, even meter in non-metric verse. The last 80 pages are an anthology of the poems she used to teach in the first 107 pages.

Example: Mary teaches metrical patterns and their symbols (iamb, trochee, dactyl, and anapest (two light stresses followed by a heavy stress).(less)

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Cindy Rollins
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I had no idea this book existed until I was browsing the shelves at McKay's. O, happy chance. This is a short introduction (or review) of the rules of poetry and how or when we can break them. Hint: You have to be good at the rules before you get to break them. Lots of example poems, many of my favorites, which make the book even more delightful.
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: students of metric poetry, Mary Oliver lovers
Recommended to Tara by: Lisa Bellamy
Shelves: poetry, writing
A respected poet recommended this to me as a first dip into metrical poetry. Amazing! Although I have studied poetry for six years, I always avoided metrical poetry (both the reading and writing of it) because I'd had such bad, boring, or confusing experiences in high school. Oliver's book was a gentle way into the waters. Not only has my writing improved but I'm now reading for the first time the old poets--and enjoying them!
Joe Haack
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book convinced me that freedom and form are not mutually exclusive - something true in life as well as the poem. I love this book.
Kristin Boldon
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, borrowed, poetry
Essential. A great companion to Oliver's Poetry Handbook, perhaps even more accessible, though it focuses only on metrical poetry. Great set of poems at the end, too.
Juli Anna
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This book is a thorough, yet concise, handbook for reading and writing metrical poetry. Aspects of meter, rhyme, and music are broken down into short, digestible chapters, with excellent in-text examples. Oliver's reading of metrical "irregularities" is fantastic, and her feel for the way form supports content leads to some insightful readings of well-loved poems.

My only complaint for this book is that I found the anthology section of this book somewhat lackluster; generally, Oliver tended
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, non-fiction
Written four years after she wrote A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver gave us this slim, focused, nimble guide focused just on metrical verse. Succinct and well exampled throughout its short text, it describes the rules simply and clearly. Above all Rules for the Dance is a pleasure to read and play with. The appendix includes an anthology of metrical poems cited in the text but not fully quoted. That too was deeply informative and sent me dancing through poems I’d not looked at since high school, ...more
Michael Gossett
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
If I want rules for poetry, I don't want them from Mary Oliver.
G.M. Burrow
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Helpful. Especially enjoyed that Mary Oliver, upon teaching a technique in poetry, frequently used that technique in her prose.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rules for the Dance is poet/professor Mary Oliver's fine "handbook" for writing and reading metrical verse. It reminds me of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Zinsser's On Writing Well--it's just as good and just as practical; in fact, it is more artfully written as it draws out the subtle values and effects embedded in metrical verse.

Oliver acknowledges that metrical verse is largely a poetry of the past but she makes a strong case for understanding work that extended, after all, from
Spike Gomes
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to find books on how to write traditional metrical poetry. So far, all I've had in my library for years was Judson's Jerome's "The Poet's Handbook". Mary Oliver's "Rules for the Dance" is a welcome addition to my collection on the subject. If I were to say anything, they provide almost a yin and yang aspect to their approach to the subject that complements the other's style.

While Jerome is curmudgeonly and critical in his pedagogy, Oliver is bright and breezy. Jerome will break down
Literary Mama
Rules for the Dance is a thorough, yet concise, handbook for reading and writing metrical poetry. Aspects of meter, rhyme, and music are broken down into short, digestible chapters with excellent in-text examples. Oliver's reading of metrical 'irregularities' is fantastic, and her feel for the way form supports content leads to some insightful readings of well-loved poems. The book anthologizes many well-loved metrical poems as well, although at times I thought Oliver's choice of poems was a ...more
Claudia Putnam
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a perfectly fine and reasonably complete guide to the basics of versification. Most of these guides to reading and writing poetry are not very different from one another--I get the feeling that they're churned out as part of the publish or perish thing. This book in particular is not substantively different from Oliver's earlier A Poetry Handbook. It's just a bit expanded. If you're looking for a guide to reading poetry, you might as well start here.
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book and Oliver's A Poetry Handbook are truly all anyone needs to appreciate the art of poetry. For more:
Sally Ewan
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent book about metrical poetry, covering structures and forms and terms. She gives good examples and the book has a lovely section at the end with a variety of poems.
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-making
For some reason, this book deeply influenced my philosophy and theology of art making. And it opened poetry to me.
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the first book to give both a solid foray into the techniques of poetry, as well as explain the heart and soul of rhythm and meter, Oliver's work provided the first foundations to my study of poetry. Although sometimes explanations still took time to grasp, or felt just out of reach, I feel some of this is simply due to the fact that words read lose the inherent cadence of words said, and to understand the natural rhythm of speech and apply it in writing is an art so subtle that it is ...more
Val Mathews
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. I recommend her handbook to all aspiring poets (and old hats, too!).
Monika Barger
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mary Oliver teaching you how to write poetry, what more can I say?
Rachel Teferet
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Well, the book was fantastic and I learned a ton. Sadly though, I still was not a fan of metered verse by the end of the book!
Jennifer Slavik
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Oliver explains a lot and keeps it interesting, although the commentary gets a little crazy. I love section 16, with her advice on writing poetry, it's truly helpful and inspiring.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, nonfiction
For anyone interested in writing or reading metrical poetry, this book is a warm, insightful, and encouraging primer. Demonstrating her points with succinct and clear examples, Oliver explains how the different patterns and stresses are as vital to meaning as the words themselves. She examines the rhythms' relevance to various subjects ("Even as pentameter is suitable to the construct of meditation, an ordering of emotion, so tetrameter is well suited to 'story poems....'" p. 31) and offers ...more
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. I was lucky enough in college to have several class periods completely devoted to scanning a single Shakespeare sonnet, "When to the sessions of sweet silent class," and we went over it, foot by foot, line by line, sound by sound. It was a "speech" class from the Theater department, not English, yet it was my first real introduction to the skills, tools, and insight available for understanding and loving the depth, subtlety, and emotional complexity of poetry--metrical poetry. So if ...more
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Mary Oliver is a modern poet and wrote this book about how to read and write poetry that has rhyme and metre. It was fun, as I am reading more and more poetry these days. At the end of the book she has about 50 poems that she discusses in the book, from Annabel Lee by Poe, to sonnets by Shakespeare and Donne, to Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Frost. Very good book and very good poets.

A comment: I really like poetry that rhymes and has metre--it seems that
Bill Martin
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: interested poetry readers
Recommended to Bill by: Charlie Lowell
Shelves: poetry
Read this back-to-back with Mary Oliver's "A Poetry Handbook." Both books together make a sane and sound introduction to understanding, reading and writing poetry. The author is deceptively simple in her approach, her short chapters full of not only poetic conventions, but seasoned wisdom, their style approaching the aphoristic. For anyone interested in the art of poetry as a reader or writer, especially those self-taught, these two books should be on the "must read" list. The opinions of MFA ...more
Lori Zavada
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In this handbook Mary Oliver teaches the technical aspects of poetry while also inspiring writers to be creative. It's a balance that she beautifully conveys it in this book. I found the information to be most helpful and even though it's a handbook, meant to teach, her word choice is always perfect. She must have the broadest vocabulary of anyone I've ever read, yet she chooses words that are not complicated and distracting. You understand the point she is making. Every time she puts pen to ...more
I'd classify this as a very beginner-y introduction to metrical verse—initially, I was deciding between this one and the one I wound up picking, and I vastly prefer the Fenton for teaching my intermediate forms workshop. But I do think this would be a really lovely text for enthusiastic high school students, or maybe in a first workshop enivronment, since it is a nice discussion of the basics. Very quick read.
Sep 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
A good introduction to poetic meter/prosody, though Mary Oliver can be a bit precious at times (the dancing metaphor, while fitting, gets a little tired after a while). I strongly recommend this book over The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky. Oliver's occasional preciousness is far more tolerable (and, indeed, kind of endearing) than Pinsky's occasional arrogance. For a more rigorous study of prosody I recommend Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell.
Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How can you not love everything Mary Oliver writes? I am in the middle of reading this book. I have to say it makes me rethink why and how I write poetry. I am consciously trying to work on sound in my poetry. This book reminds me to use the timeless tools of meter and rhyme. Writing poetry is playing with sound and meaning. We have to be a little off to even consider writing poetry, engineering sound sight, so that meaning emerges. This book is a good book for teachers and writers. I don't know ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2015
It's a little dryly written but it covers a lot of territory in a short span. This is more of a refresher book than an introduction. If you are already familiar with poetic devices it might move to quickly & lightly over technique. My favorite (the most inspiring) were from chapter 15 on. The anthology she pulled from was fair enough for her illustrations but doesn't represent the diverse WORLD of poetry.
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
I tried for ages to find a really good, really accessible book on metrical poetry, and with this, I finally did. Oliver's beautiful prose gets right down to the heart of poetry, explaining not only its form but its purpose with clarity and care. Although I suspect that poets with a better grasp of meter than myself may find this a bit too simplistic, I can't imagine anyone wouldn't benefit from a look, and I would recommend this highly for any reader or writer of poetry.
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“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 observations of the
“No poet ever wrote a poem to dishonor life, to compromise high ideals, to scorn religious views, to demean hope or gratitude, to argue against tenderness, to place rancor before love, or to praise littleness of soul. Not one. Not ever.” 0 likes
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