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Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words

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Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is a poet and teacher who conducts workshops privately, as well as in the California Poets in the Schools program. Her exuberant, critically acclaimed teaching guide takes instructors, writers, and general readers into the very heart and intensity of life and the craft of expressing what one feels through the written word.

210 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1996

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Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

3 books35 followers

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5 stars
1,134 (45%)
4 stars
777 (31%)
3 stars
415 (16%)
2 stars
118 (4%)
1 star
28 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 202 reviews
Profile Image for Randolph Knackstedt.
3 reviews18 followers
August 18, 2011
If you are new to poetry and would like to start writing your own poems for fun, but are not sure how to start, this book is for you. This is a great, unintimidating book for all ages. And a great introduction for those who might not have much interest in poetry, in general, because the author has included short, simple, exercises at the end of each chapter that is both creative and fun which ANYONE can try.

Even if you are an experienced poet, you might come across tips that could initiate the creative process at times when ideas are running dry.

In my opinion, this title shines as a first “how to” poetry book for someone that is slightly curious about writing poems, yet is a bit hesitant to start. And this book would be great as a gift to someone that might never have thought of writing poetry before since this book + plus a little encouragement could ignite a lifelong love affair with poetry.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,801 reviews107 followers
December 27, 2012
I'm not a huge fan of poetry. Had a teacher drain all the joy out of poems for me when I was a wee one. However, I am slowly finding my way back. This book is a fun creative tool for people who love words. Yes, there are lessons on how to put those words into poems, but it is the word play that hooked me. Love the idea of word banks. Interspersed with the lessons are anecdotes from the author's life and classes. And while I might not be rushing to my desk to write a poem, reading this book has clearly improved my personal journaling.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,176 reviews1,046 followers
April 14, 2016
I didn't like this as much as The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, but I still liked it enough to order a dead tree copy. I found the exercises well-designed; open enough to stretch and inspire, but narrow enough to make me think "I can do that." (Contrast with 52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going, which makes me want to place the book on a shelf and never return to it.)

I had concerns about some of the many references to indigenous American people’s beliefs. Wooldridge talks about going to an Art of the Wild conference at "Squaw Valley." Squaw is an really offensive term. I guess it's not the author's fault if the valley is called Squaw Valley, but it still made me cringe. This is because in other places Wooldridge says things like, "Native wisdom holds that the soul or spirit takes that long to leave [the body] fully" (loc 1290), and this is such a generic, sweeping, New Agey term. Which of the 566 federally recognized tribes is Woolridge talking about? The whole way through there's a sense of fetishization of indigenous American cultures. Wooldridge has a "middle-class, Chicago Jewish background" (loc. 1199) and then she talks (a lot: 30x references) about the coyote as a guiding spirit: "To the American Indians, coyote is tricky, magical and often a hero in spite of himself" (loc 1201). She gives a related poem prompt: "Begin your poem with one of these openers, Coyote and I, or, I am Coyote, Coyote made me. Include the moon. And, sure. Go outside and howl."

See, in New Zealand this would lean toward cultural appropriation, unless you personally had a connection to coyote. You can’t just borrow important Maori symbols and write about them, piggybacking on their cultural meaning. I mean, you can, but it would be really, really ill-advised. And rude. It’s not okay to pick and choose, selecting the parts of a culture you want, without embracing the context in which those aspects arise. So, yeah, the whole way through, whenever Wooldridge used indigenous American culture in her discussion, I felt uber uncomfortable. Your milage may vary.

Despite this, I still enjoyed the book, particularly the many ideas for practice.
Profile Image for Chris.
2,856 reviews203 followers
July 5, 2018
I liked this a lot - particularly how accessible Wooldridge makes poetry and word play to everyone. Wooldridge's "word tickets" sounded an awful lot like Magnetic Poetry to me, and based on the original publication date, she was probably writing this around the time the original Magnetic Poetry set was released (but probably before it was widespread).
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 2 books52 followers
November 9, 2017
If I had to describe POEMCRAZY in one word, it would be... Alive.

Yes. Alive. Every sentence, every paragraph, every page and essay and writing prompt in this book is bursting with life, joy, and spirit. It is so many things - whimsical yet practical, insightful yet exuberant, thoughtful and observant, passionate and inspiring - that calling it "brilliant" or a "gem" or "treasure trove" doesn't suffice.

Then again, POEMCRAZY isn't simply a guide on how to write poetry. Nor is it simply a book about poets or poetry. Rather, it's a collection of musings and exercises that touch on the art of writing poetry, its many (and sometimes unexpected) wellsprings of inspiration, and the impact it has on how we see and express ourselves and, thus, how we live. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge shares all kinds of anecdotes from her personal life and teaching experience (she conducts poetry workshops in her home state of California), including how her own children are part of her poetry process and how her wide range of students (from elementary school students to prison inmates) have revealed the deepest parts of themselves through their work.

Did I mention how incredible Wooldridge's prose is? It's so vivid and graceful and sprightly, as if someone translated a ballet dancer's movements into words. It exudes alertness, imagination, and a sort of reckless abandon that speaks to the writer's soul and beckons them to come out to play. So when I say that POEMCRAZY is alive, I mean it not only in terms of the topics it covers, but also in its approach and personality.

Whether you're a poet, a fan of poetry, or a writer focusing on other genres, read this book. It might very well change the way you look at words and the craft of writing forever.
Profile Image for Steph.
Author 4 books6 followers
February 23, 2015
I love this to no end. A memoir with heart and a treatise for poets, Susan Goldsmith Woolridge writes as I wish to someday. She's set me off on a spiritual journey to find myself, and I'm grateful for her words. This is a book I'll read over and over, one that will stay on my shelves through time, and one that I won't mind paging through until it's worn. (It's only five stars because there isn't a rating called an infinite amount of googolplex love.)
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
Author 11 books41 followers
May 31, 2010
I read this book slowly, one or two of its small chapters each morning while I drank my first cup of tea. This book is about celebrating life in all its hugeness and ordinariness through words and imagination. I loved it.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 7 books50 followers
July 14, 2015
One of my very favorite books. It's definitely a keeper if you're a writer - I hated giving mine away, but it was a book that needed to be passed on. I will get another one for my collection. That's how much I loved this book.
Profile Image for Andrea Huelsenbeck.
168 reviews6 followers
March 4, 2017
I bought poemcrazy at Borders (Remember Borders Books? Sigh.) when my oldest daughter entered Bennington College in 1996. Poetry was one of her areas of study (I think it was her original major), and I thought she would like it. But as I flipped through it, I decided I’d read it first, then send it to her.
I started reading it often, always meaning to try out the exercises, but never getting around to it. Meanwhile, Carly changed majors several times, graduated from Bennington with a degree in German, then got a Masters from NYU in English as a second language, earned a second Masters from Baruch College, and started doctoral work. I’ve never sent her the book.
Finally, last January I began a year-long love affair with poemcrazy: freeing your life with words, by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, which has resulted in twenty-seven babies (poems) so far.
Poemcrazy is an informal textbook on creating free verse. Wooldridge is a nationally known teacher of poetry workshops to students of all ages. She is more interested in playing with words to release their emotional content than in adhering to strict form or rhyme constraints.
Wooldridge advocates collecting words in a wordpool. She likes writing individual words on tickets, like those used at carnivals. Throughout the book, Wooldridge makes suggestions for additions to the pool.
I write my words on quartered 3×5 cards, color coded: blue for adjectives, yellow for verbs, orange for nouns, green for colors, and pink for feelings. I rubberband each color together and store them in a Ziplock baggie in my desk drawer.
The wordpool can be used to generate poems. For me, one or two cards drawn from each category create weird juxtapositions that ignite bizarre images and bring long-repressed memories back into my consciousness, releasing floodgates of emotion—a perfect breeding ground for poetry.
Using stories from her life and examples from her workshops, Wooldridge nudges the reader toward creativity:
"…Erica [a high school student] stared at a perfect, round dandelion gone to seed. When Stacie knocked some seeds, off, Erica went outside for another. She wanted a perfect sphere. I asked her to look closely, name it and then describe what the dandelion looked like, reminding her that close observation is important in poetry.
"Then I asked her to think about a quality of the dandelion that could enrich her life. I felt discouraged and I was pushing her. I asked her to begin, What does it look like? What does it look like that it isn’t? When Erica finally wrote about her dandelion, I was reminded of the power of comparison (or simile and metaphor) to expand our sense of possibility in ourselves and in everyday objects.

"Wish dome

"it looks like someone shot
an arrow in the moon
or even a golf ball on a green tee.
A domed jungle gym
with small people growing out.
An octopus tarred and feathered.
It smells like starbursts…
I can smell the arrow
it flew by so fast.
Bring me the light touch of a bubble
the freedom of air
the firmness and strength of a rock."
Before I read this book, I didn’t think I could write poetry.
Now I know I can.
Poemcrazy was first released in 1996. It is now in its twenty-sixth printing.

Profile Image for Yaaresse.
2,013 reviews16 followers
August 18, 2017
I'm not really a poetry person. Sure, I like reading some of it. (Operative word: some) But I've always felt slightly ridiculous when teachers assigned the writing of poetry in school. I've felt completely ridiculous the few times I've voluntarily tried my hand at it, the same feeling I imagine someone who is tone-deaf and can't read music must get when confronted with a piano or a karaoke machine. I'm a process-driven, analytical, left-brained introvert. What some see as creative syntax, I see as mangling the language. Comparing intangibles to random nouns confuses me. Emoting all over the page makes me squirm, whether I'm the one attempting the emoting or it is someone else.

Woodbridge strikes me as one of those artsy, emotive, dreamy people who can turn a box of pasta and copper wire found in a dumpster dive into art or who can write a heartfelt song about the fleas on a dog, but who forgets to pick the kids up from school or pay the light bill because she's so intent on making art. And that's ok. The world needs people like that to balance out us borderline OCD checklist types. Never mind if I was stuck in an elevator with her, I'd probably go insane within half an hour. (Which is about ten minutes longer than I'd probably last stuck in an elevator with Anne Lamott or Julia Cameron.)

That's probably why it's good for me to read something like this book once in a while. It reminds me there are other ways of seeing and being.

Poemcrazy is much the same format as the author's other book Foolsgold except this focuses on writing poetry (duh) rather than creativity in general. Each very short chapter starts with a personal story, almost like an entry from her personal journal, followed by suggestions for activities and exercises. Did I do any of these? No, of course not. Read that first paragraph again *points upward* Would I have gotten more from the book if I had. Probably. Still, just reading her playful, colorful insights about the process of creativity is rewarding. I liked the book enough to put it on my "to buy" list. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even lock the doors, pull down the shades and do one of the exercises. :)
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 9 books102 followers
July 18, 2019
Straightforward, 'Poemcrazy' is a passionate rallying call to get the poet out of you. In fact, the whole book ultimately gets down to only one piece of advice: if you want to write poetry, then get yourself a pen and notebook and, go jot down the world around you in all its 'ordinary magic' (an expression the author acknowledgingly stole from Alan Ginsberg).

That's it but gosh! How enthusiastic she is! Her heartfelt passion and consuming drive is actually what makes it all a worthy read.

Reading like a diary serving random thoughts, very sensual and totally engaged with the world around her, Susan Woooldridge indeed shows pages after pages that everything and anything can serve as material for poetry.

Yet, this book is quite easy to dismiss. Here's just encouragements and prompts with absolutely nothing on technique and prosody. It's quite repetitive. She clearly gets carried away towards the end. Her wild enthusiasm may also seem plain silly or annoying at times, although contagious (see how she writes about e. e. cummings or Walt Withman). Hence, it certainly is not a necessary read.

Having said that, I still think it's a pleasant book to go through not least because, on a strictly personal level, some of her points particularly resonated with me.

First, I too like to keep list of words to pick in and associate until something creative comes up. Then because, I also completely adhere to her view that poetry is mainly about images.

All in all then, even if there's nothing at all on the technical side of the craft, once you forgive her for stating the obvious and leave aside her at time over the top enthusiasm here's a very friendly and passionate invite into the realm of poetry. It's just that, but it does it very well.

Profile Image for Dorothea.
118 reviews49 followers
January 30, 2012
Local writer writes about "freeing your life with words." *two snaps in a zig-zag* LOVE HER!

I was wonderfully blessed to attend a free poetry-writing workshop taught by Susan G. Wooldridge at the public library in Oroville, CA in April 2011. Gods, how I love this woman and her Poemcrazy book! If I had to name one person who has had the biggest impact on my writing, it would be Wooldridge.

This book is a must if you write and are seeking inspiration.
Profile Image for Andrea  Taylor.
763 reviews34 followers
December 4, 2013
This book is amazing! The key turned in the door of my mind and I am free to write with a playful heart and mind. This book will have a permanent place on my shelf and in my mind! If you want to free your creative self, unlock the poet within this is the book for you! Fall in love with the world through the magic of words, words, and more words! This book and the exercises within are a sheer pleasure!
Profile Image for David West.
259 reviews12 followers
June 15, 2017
Several good ideas in this book for writers. The author had a worldview unlike mine. She sees poetry as a way to discover and express a truth which comes from oneself. I understand poetry as a way to see and understand what is propositionally true outside oneself. The chapter on controlled abandon was my favorite and a few of the practice ideas are good.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 11 books330 followers
March 30, 2008
This wasn't full of great prompts or theory or anything (compared, for example, to "In the Palm of Your Hand"), but I found this book really touching in its way, and inspiring. She writes as if she's having a conversation with the reader, and she provides some excellent example poems.
Profile Image for Coreena.
13 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2014
Susan took the time to write me a postcard, which I have stapled inside the book.
"Be sloppy. Steal words. Carry a journal."
Profile Image for Nancy.
923 reviews37 followers
January 6, 2019
Finished: 06.01.2019
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: C
Author introduces us into her world
and tells us stories about her life with words.
Goal of the book was to give the reader some
practice workshop tips to introduce the reader to the
wonder of words and poems.
Quick read....some good tips....
Profile Image for Adam.
Author 2 books14 followers
February 12, 2020
Light of a hundred
Eggs burst by blind worded heat
Form possible flight
203 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2023
Susan Wooldridge’s playfulness with life is contagious. You wont be sorry you exposed your mind to her sunshine.
Profile Image for Donna .
131 reviews
November 4, 2020
A book that helps to demystify the writing of poetry, making it feel more approachable and less daunting.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,774 reviews281 followers
April 25, 2021
Want to write? Poemcrazy is the book for you. Poemcrazy is filled with stories about writing, writing prompts, and inspiration for writing.

I've had a lot (a lot!) of writing books, but this one is one of my favorites.
Profile Image for Holly Walrath.
Author 21 books113 followers
May 30, 2018
This is one of those writing guides where every exercise or tidbit of advice is paired with a story. Even the most bland remembrances suddenly become fodder for writing, even I know that as a writer, but it doesn't mean I want a writing guide made up of them. I was hoping for something with a bit more teeth.
Profile Image for Katrina Sark.
Author 7 books36 followers
February 7, 2018

p.xii – Poems arrive. They hide in feelings and images, in weeds and delivery vans, daring us to notice and give them form with our words. They take us to an invisible world where light and dark, inside and outside meet.

2 – Mr. Mabie

p.7- Buy yourself a notebook / journal that suits your personality and keep it with you, at least while you’re reading this book. In a journal you can be self-centered and feel safe enough to write poems. It’s never too late to start. Don’t try to catch up by going back in your life. Start with now.

3 – Collecting Words and Creating a Wordpool

p.10 – A word can trigger or inspire a poem, and words in a stack or thin list can make up poems. Because I always carry my journal with me, I’m likely to jot down words on trains, in the car, at boring meetings (where I appear to be taking notes), on hikes and in bed.

7 – Being There

p.27 – Once I heard poet Gary Snyder say, “Poetry has an interesting function. It helps people be where they are.” It’s hard to write a poem about a place, an experience or even a state of mind without fully being there.

Profile Image for Candace Marie.
44 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2014
This book has helped me to remember the small things I'd forgotten about why I love writing poetry. It's given me some useful practices and tools for future "stuck" moments.
I also love the whimsical attitude taken by Ms. Wooldridge. Her emphasis on being in and writing in the present is something I often struggle with. The way this author describes writing poetry and playing with words makes me remember my love for the craft and inspires me to do more with the words in my head.
Fantastic read- I recommend it to anybody looking for guidance, a reminder, or gentle, realistic poetry writing advice.
9 reviews
November 5, 2017
Generally, this poem is about a teacher named Susan Wooldridge. Who, in case you haven’t noticed, had fallen in love with the art of poetry. She lives her life writing and being influenced by poetry as she describes every personal thought and feeling. This is the perfect book for learning how to express yourself and figuring out how to write poems. Not to forget, you’ll learn how to get your ideas to get started.

Honestly, what really confused me at first was whether the series of events told occurs in chronological order. However, I gradually realized it was being told from the first-person perspective of Susan who, in fact, is reflecting back on her personal life.
Profile Image for Nina.
Author 11 books73 followers
September 6, 2008
I bought this book because I love the cover.I have read many books about writing and the creative process, yet few have reached me the way Poemcrazy has. Woolridge's love of life and words sings out from every page. Her writing is alive and enthusiastic, and her practice suggestions are stimulating. She gives enough detail, guidance and encouragement that it is easy to start writing.

Her enthusiasm is contagious;where many books portray writing practice as a dreaded but necessary chore, Woolridge's prompts made me eager to write.
Profile Image for Misa.
37 reviews31 followers
January 30, 2014
I love this book. Love it because it stretches your mind to play, dream and fall in love all over again with words. Woolridge shares with us her tips and techniques and ideas on how to shift everything we see into living poetry. There are playfyul exercises, simple ones you can expand on or save for later, yes perfect for a classroom, homeschoolers, or any person who wants to delve into the wonderful world of poetry.
Profile Image for Donna Wynn.
22 reviews4 followers
July 4, 2012
I have read this book five times and each time I receive something more than the first time. I recently read it again on my eight hour Amtrak ride home from New Jersey. This book inspires poets to write, and write deeply from the heart. Her words hit me and inspired me to write more and more poetry. Don't miss this one!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 202 reviews

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