Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Poetry Handbook

Rate this book
“Mary Oliver would probably never admit to anything so grandiose as an effort to connect the conscious mind and the heart (that’s what she says poetry can do), but that is exactly what she accomplishes in this stunning little handbook.”— Los Angeles Times

From the beloved and acclaimed poet, an ultimate guide to writing and understanding poetry.

With passion and wit, Mary Oliver skillfully imparts expertise from her long, celebrated career as a disguised poet. She walks readers through exactly how a poem is built, from meter and rhyme, to form and diction, to sound and sense, drawing on poems by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others. This handbook is an invaluable glimpse into Oliver’s prolific mind—a must-have for all poetry-lovers.

130 pages, Paperback

First published August 15, 1994

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mary Oliver

87 books6,215 followers
Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,155 (44%)
4 stars
2,604 (36%)
3 stars
1,100 (15%)
2 stars
184 (2%)
1 star
74 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 739 reviews
Profile Image for Richelle Wilson.
45 reviews15 followers
February 18, 2013
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 scansion as though we already knew them (most of us don’t). So quite frankly, given that the basic formal elements of poetry discussed in this book are vital and that Mary Oliver treats them in a way that is simple, honest, and shimmers like poetry itself, there is absolutely no reason for any reader or writer of poetry to ignore this little handbook. “It is written to empower the beginning writer who stands between two marvelous and complex things—an experience (or an idea or a feeling), and the urge to tell about it in the best possible conjunction of words.”

And empower she does. One thing I like in particular about this book is Oliver’s emphasis on form. I’ve only taken one creative workshop in my time as a university student so perhaps this assessment of fellow contemporary writers is premature, but I was appalled at how the professor (whom I do admire greatly) and the other students seemed altogether uninterested in developing an awareness of historical form. I understand that it is outdated and impractical to earnestly write something in metrical verse these days, but why not do it as an exercise? Why not learn how those rhythms work so that writers of free verse can be more deliberate in their poetic choices? That is precisely what Mary Oliver calls for. To be honest, I still wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of reading the chapters on metrical lines and forms. Many in English departments who care about scansion seem to do so for its own stilted and limiting purpose: to say “This is iambic pentameter! I identified that! Someone give me a cookie!” Okay, but what does that mean? How does it help us analyze the poem? Oliver gives great insights into how form shapes pacing, tempo, stress, perhaps by extension mood and tone, style, etc. and works to contribute to a poem’s overall impact and meaning. Thank you! I will give her a cookie.

I loved her discussion on how free verse came to be the standard poetic form of the twentieth century and into the present day. In the past, I have heard this shift to free verse characterized as a “break from the past” (kind of like a rejection of the canon), a way of making poetry more democratic, or even as carelessness. While some of those may be true (barring the last option, which I don’t agree with), Mary Oliver points out several other compelling reasons for the advent and growing popularity of free verse: first of all, a growing print culture. “Free verse came into fashion just as the availability of books was becoming widespread, and the practice of reading poems with one’s eyes, and listening to them silently, was taking precedence over the oral tradition” (56). She goes on to describe the importance of the free verse poet’s attention to line breaks and visual presentation: “The pattern on the page, then, became the indicator of pace, and the balance and poise of the poem was inseparable from the way the line breaks kept or failed a necessary feeling of integrity, a holding together of the poem from beginning to end. The regular, metrical line gave assistance to a listener who sought to remember the poem; the more various line breaks of the ‘visual’ poem gave assistance to the mind seeking to ‘hear’ the poem” (56).

I love how she talks about how any poem—including, or even especially, those written in free verse—has to be balanced and measured. “Every poem has as basic measure, and a continual counterpoint of differences playing against that measure. Poems that do not offer such variations quickly become boring” (56). However, as she emphasizes time and time again, “the poem needs to be reliable” (56; I guess that page is jam-packed with quotables). “A poem requires a design—a sense of orderliness. Part of our pleasure in the poem is that it is a well-made thing—it gives pleasure through the authority and sweetness of the language used in the way that it is used” (58, her italics). How we say is just as important, if not more, than what we say. In other words, the poet needs to be purposeful. And how is that possible without some knowledge of the poetic devices at your disposal and their effect?

Given all of that, it is very helpful that she sets up a few ordering principles for free verse poems, which are “by no means exempted from the necessity of having a design, though one must go about it in rather different ways” (66). She then talks about line, syntax, repetition, stress, enjambment, diction, and perhaps the most important for any poet, “setting up a felt pattern of expectation and meeting that expectation” (66). As my workshop instructor told me, a poem doesn’t have to do everything; it just has to say one thing and say it well. Creating that expectation at the beginning and fulfilling it by the end is the excitement of our call to write, I think. We want to express something we’ve felt or experienced and do it justice; Mary Oliver is master at that. We would all do well to listen to what she has to say.

I was also taken with her discussion of the intimacy of the free-verse form: “Now a line was needed that would sound and feel not like formal speech but like conversation. What was needed was a line which, when read, would feel as spontaneous, as true to the moment, as talk in the street, or talk between friends in one’s own house... That, I think, is the long and short of it. Speech entered the poem. The poem was no longer a lecture, it was time spent with a friend. Its music was the music of conversation” (69-70). And what sweet music. In that same section, just pages later, she gives the most compelling analysis for the significance of William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” I’ve ever heard.

I was a little confused by her distaste for what she calls “poetic diction” (87-88), by which I think she actually means excessively lofty, worn-out language from poets in days gone by: emerald carpets, birds in a choir, et al. I’m not sure I totally agree with her on this. Her example of trees as Druids actually sounds quite lovely to me, and in her hands I think it would be a rather nice image. But I do like that she calls for us to be more thoughtful and candid with our diction and imagery rather than borrowing from old cliches. Speaking of cliches, she hates those too (88), and I laughed out loud at her declaration on the following page that “Proper syntax never hurt anyone.” She is playful throughout the text, and I was happy for that.

If nothing else, go read her section on revision and the Conclusion. Beautiful stuff. I admire the balance she creates throughout the entire text between developing or honing formal skills and “that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live” (8). She insists on truly living, walking among green things, and noticing as being the key characteristics of a poet, but she also argues for the necessity of hard work, which is something I needed to hear.

I read this cover-to-cover in a short period of time and I already want to read it again. It’s that good. It’s that sweet and necessary. Do yourself a favor and enter the dazzling world of poetry in the able hands of Mary Oliver. You will not regret it.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,666 reviews440 followers
November 6, 2019
Poet Mary Oliver tells about the craft of poetry in a basic book that would be helpful to both readers and writers of poetry. She writes about the various ingredients that go into a poem--meter, rhyme, sound, imagery, form, and more. Well-written, famous poems are used to illustrate the points she is making. Unfortunately, she does not use any of her own delightful poems as examples. Even newcomers to poetry will find this book very accessible.

I do not write poetry, but I enjoyed her advice to beginner poets. They should immerse themselves in books, the arts, nature, history, and other areas of interest. "Writers must . . . take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems. . . . A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry."
Profile Image for William Hurst.
8 reviews3 followers
May 16, 2011
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, beauty, sound, and art working behind a normal poem, most poets just starting out do not. Oliver's text is meant to sharpen the poetic senses, not through rigorous practical exercises, but by discussing how poetry does what it does, how it grabs and doesn't let go. For that, Oliver should be commended.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books906 followers
April 26, 2022
At 122 pp., this is one of the more succinct "how-to's" (for wannabe-poets) slash "how-it's-done's" (for wanna-understand-poets) out there.

This means the 5-star people will praise it for doing what good poetry should do -- delivering in an economy of words, while the 3-star people will hedge a bit and wish it went more in depth via more elaboration and a few more example poems.

Me, I can hear both sides, so I'll make like the Buddha and walk the middle way. Four stars it is!
Profile Image for Melissa.
167 reviews24 followers
July 22, 2022
"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."
Profile Image for Bill Martin.
24 reviews9 followers
April 12, 2012
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 will go back again and again to mine it's riches. Oliver has that rare quality of giving plainspoken advice to beginners--encouraging mediocre poets to work hard to be better--while providing polished gems of wisdom for more accomplished pens. For example, her chapter on imagery is woefully brief and barely introductory of such seminal devices as metaphor and personification, yet she manages to say everything she wants in a line comparing figurative language to the pimeval forest floor, "the very mud and leaves of the world. Without this mud and leaves--and fish and rises and honeybees-- the poem would be as dull as a mumble."

In sum, A Poetry Handbook reads like a master class for bright, engaged undergraduates. I recommend it for intro teachers, students, general readers and poets, especially if you are self-taught.

I picked up the other Oliver handbook, Rules of the Dance, as a companion, and am reading it more slowly.
25 reviews2 followers
February 17, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,147 reviews77 followers
October 28, 2016
I liked this, I did.

I'm spoiled by John Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean? Nevertheless, this was a helpful overview of essential elements to good poetry. Perhaps because nothing seemed new, it didn't strike me as a "must read."

Oliver articulates what I've always believed:

To write well it is necessary to read widely and deeply.

When she talks about revision, she admits that her poems have roughly 40-50 drafts. Well, now.

The crowning jewel of a quote came at the end. These are her closing words. I've made some line breaks for easier reading.

There is nourishment in books, other art, history, philophies—in holiness and mirth. It is in honest hands-on labor also; I don't mean to indicate a preference for the scholarly life. And it is in the green world—among people, and animals, and trees for that matter, if one genuinely cares about trees.

A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision—a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed.

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. Yes, indeed.

Profile Image for Jamie.
1,167 reviews419 followers
January 18, 2019

Mary Oliver died today.

Completely by chance, last week (thanks to a job wherein I’m typesetting a book of poetry), I checked out a stack of poetry books from the library, among them Mary Oliver’s.

I spent last night and tonight steeped in her words. I stayed awake reading. I had no idea, not until a few moments ago. It feels spooky, in a way. Not in a bad way. But in a way that feels hard to deny, the way when life brushes against you and whispers, listen.

I went back just now and re-read “The Loon” — Not quite 4 a.m., when the rapture of being alive / strikes me from sleep, and I rise / from the comfortable bed and I go / to another room — then found the passage in this handbook that I had marked down last night:

“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in hot pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”

Yes, indeed.

Profile Image for Mindy.
51 reviews1 follower
August 28, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Carrie.
Author 16 books66 followers
July 7, 2017
I want to take a long walk through a misty forest discussing writing with Mary.
3 reviews1 follower
May 29, 2013
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 honed as her poetry, but as prose it does not shine like the verse. You could only expect crisp simplicity and limpidity from Oliver. The selections of poems she provides as examples fit clearly with her descriptions of the relevant angles of art she is discussing. My disappointment--and this was not a profound disappointment--was that little, if any, new was revealed about the art of poetry which you cannot find elsewhere. In fact, what was offered was less than can be found elsewhere.

The chapters each feel slight, as if she is distilling too much, but they come off as summaries rather than depth and digging. I feel she is almost holding back, as if she does not want us to know more about appreciating and writing poetry. I realize one aim here is to fulfill some needs of writing workshops, and so the absolute basics are in order. But the book could fulfill those needs for basics while also going into more detail about the greater subtleties of poetry-creation. I do not mean to say the author is deliberately restraining and holding back her secrets. Only that the original aim was perhaps too rudimentary.

Maybe I am expecting too much, and even the greatest poets really have no place to attempt digging into their intuitions and hearts for whatever makes their blood and poetry organs turn out their beauty. Keats gave a few prosaic hints of his own poetic outlook in a single essay. Eliot as a critic certainly offered a lot of material from which can be inferred his own poetics. I am no poet, so I am not begging for secrets to make my own poetry organ go. At worst, I so joy in being in Oliver's spirit that I, like any of her followers, could only wish for more such prose work, along, of course, with the verse she has generously provided.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,619 reviews53 followers
March 18, 2017
I suspect the problem I had with Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook was that I really, really wanted it to be Strunk and White 2: This Time it's Verse-onal.

Oliver presents a concise and straightforward introduction to the art of poetry, focusing on the importance of both exposing yourself to many different poems and poets and of imitating some of those many, techniques which are considered traditional in the visual arts but not so much in the written. Having laid her foundation, she moves on to the building of the structure of a poem - the sound, the line, the form, the verse, the image - before closing with the finishing touches of revision and a debate of the pros and cons of workshopping versus solitary composition.

It's all fine, so far as it goes, but the tone felt a little elevated for something theoretically intended to open up access to poetry; whatever Oliver's arguments against the conversational style of modern poetry, her Handbook could have used some of the sly humor of Strunk and White. Still, blink and you'll miss this guide, so the MFA-program tone doesn't have much time to wear on you.

While an excellent choice for something to assign students in a composition class, Oliver's Handbook's formal tone and over-reliance on samples of verse drawn from overexposed poems (Leaves of Grass, The Red Wheelbarrow, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening) may make this a less-than-ideal pick for reluctant readers of poetry who are looking for a friendlier point of entry to the art.
Profile Image for Alarie.
Author 11 books77 followers
January 26, 2015
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 Travelled. He made me laugh out loud. Oliver mostly bored me. However, just when I thought she had wasted my time, she ended with a bang. I loved her philosophies of writing on pages 107-118 as she talks about imagery, literature, revision, and solitude. She believes writing workshops are a good idea, particularly for a beginning writer, but cautions that “the poem requires of the writer not society or instruction, but profound and unbroken solitude.”
Profile Image for Sincerae Smith.
218 reviews76 followers
July 29, 2016
This is the shortest book I've read about crafting poetry, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's very useful for poets. Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the language and instruction she uses here is lush and useful. She breaks down the mechanics of poetry. She also strongly advocates that even though most of today's poetry is written in free verse, serious writers and readers of poetry should explore and be grounded in the classics.
Profile Image for dathomira.
199 reviews
January 20, 2021
i really and truly loved this. i found it helpful on multiple fronts: 1) thinking about prose that is poetic in my own writing 2) thinking about the poetry that i read and how to understand it better 3) teaching poetry--the chapter on sound is genuinely the foundation upon which i taught beowulf and i wish i'd had it frankly when i was writing my chapter on idylls. i do think its something i'll return to again--i skimmed over some chapters which i didn't feel i needed particularly but i do know i will come back to the chapter on lines--i like sentence variation and i have to try really hard at it so this will be useful. any way: hearty recommend for prose writers, poets, poetry readers, teachers and students.
Profile Image for Megan Miller.
315 reviews
April 18, 2021
This is a really wonderful book. She succinctly pulls together an overview of poetry as a whole, and as parts. I will be returning to this, and probably including it in educating my kids someday.
Profile Image for Gearóid.
300 reviews126 followers
July 18, 2019
A great insight into what it takes to write great poetry.
Wish I had read this when in school I might have understood poetry more instead of just memorising it.

Highly recommend and highly recommend Mary Oliver poetry.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 9 books102 followers
October 12, 2019
'A poem that is composed without the sweet and correct formalities of language, which are what sets it apart from the dailiness of ordinary writing, is doomed. It will not fly. It will be raucous and sloppy -the work of an amateur.'

And here's to another book on the craft of writing poetry! This one, though, being by a talented practitioner of the art that is, Mary Oliver, celebrated American poetess winner (among other acclaimed recognitions) of the National Book Award (1992) and the Pulitzer Prize (1984).

As an introduction, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Explaining forms, verses, accentuations and else she is clear, informative, and straight to the point. It's just that, in between the lines, one can read she has convictions on what constitute poetry; and I would have loved these convictions to be hammered more forcefully instead of being shyly relegated into the background. I believe indeed her views to be common sense, yet in our dreadful poetical landscape (who read poetry nowadays?... Exactly!) way more than relevant and needed.

For a start, she gently reminds that one cannot write decent poetry without having a clue about the technical side of the craft. She even goes further, by suggesting that one cannot built anything strong and original if it's not built upon the established canon that is, traditional poetry.
That may sound like obvious. Yet when most of our established literary intelligentsia proudly sneers at traditional and/ or formal writing (e.g. see how many dismiss even rhymes...) and then nag about poetry readers being scarce these days (duh!) here's indeed a strong point that, I think, would have deserved to be yelled.

Now, don't get it wrong! 'A Poetry Handbook' doesn't bash on free verse as opposed to metrical form! It's just that, in my opinion, she is too gentle nailing crucial points that many came to overlook:

'Is poetry language that is spontaneous, impulsive? Yes, it is. Is it also language that is composed, considerate, appropriate, and effective, though you read the poem a hundred times? Yes, it is. And this is as true of free verse as it is of metrical verse.'

I know, some will appreciate such lack of patronising attitude and haughtiness. I just personally believe that, in regard to how poetry turned to be during the past few decades, being brutally blunt is exactly the tone that's needed to put the art back on track. Considering who she is, Mary Oliver of all people, would have been entitled to do just that.

After all, it's not complicated to write a good and decent poem. It's all about prosody on the one hand, and images on the other. About, she dedicates whole chapters to rhythm, choice of words (sound, accuracy, connotation...) and, most importantly, figurative language (figures of speech) that are straight to the point.

In a word, this short yet relevant little book will be useful, not only to whose aspiring to write poetry but, also, any poetry reader in general so as to get a better understanding and hence appreciation of the craft. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Philipp.
143 reviews1 follower
June 8, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Nathanael Green.
Author 4 books146 followers
February 14, 2021
I use this book in one of my courses and have found it's one of the best at explaining poetry both to new poets and also to those students who thought they didn't like poetry. It's clear, concise, no-nonsense and incredibly helpful for new poets and those polishing their craft.
Profile Image for Cory.
102 reviews7 followers
May 5, 2021
I really loved reading and teaching this one. A patient, generous, accessible, wise (if at times just the tiniest bit patronizing, but comes from a good teacherly place) text to ease into meter, free verse, and all kinds of techniques. Tickled to discover she has a book exclusively about writing meter which I hope to read soon :)
193 reviews
December 12, 2019
I am a little scared of poetry. I don’t have the patience to decode all those metaphors and allusions dished up in iambic pentameter; I always want the poet to cut to the chase. Yet I’ve often wondered if I’ve been missing something, so poetry stands before me like a challenge. As there is fast food and fast fashion, there is also the gulping consumption of fast culture and perhaps the reading of poetry could be part of the antidote.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, perhaps better known in her native America than in the UK. Her poems are brief and crisp and seem as good a starting place for a novice poetry reader as any – though I am open to suggestion.

Although this is a technical book written for the writers of poetry, I thought it might help me with my explorations and, to an extent, I was right. It explains meters, stresses and rhythm and discusses figurative language such as simile and personification, which I found useful. Incidentally, the book was published in 1994 before the engulfing dominance of Rap, to which Oliver does not refer.

I was more taken with her discussion of the creative process itself, of which some examples here:

“In my own work, I usually revise through forty or fifty drafts. Some lines come to you nearly perfect, as easily as a dream arranges itself during sleep. That’s luck. That’s grace. But this is the usual way: hard work, hard work, hard work. This is the way it is done.”

“This I have always known – that if I did not live my life immersed in the one activity which suits me, and which also keeps me utterly happy and intrigued, I would someday come to bitter and mortal regret.”

“Among the things I learned were two of special interest to poets. First, that one can rise early and have time to write before the world’s work schedule begins. Also, that one can live simply and honourably on just about enough money to keep a chicken alive. And do so cheerfully.”

“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. Yes indeed.”
2 reviews
July 3, 2011
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 reading and keeps the reader's attention. Also, her choice of poets for her examples of effective use of sound, meter, and simply put the English language were excellent. I was in the woods with Robert Frost, and was standing next to the Red Wheelbarrow. All of Mary Oliver's key points can be applied with any written piece if an author so chooses, and it is a book that is now a permanent part of my library. Ms. Oliver has effectively simplified poetry, and at the same time made writing more difficult with her contagious desire to apply poetic mechanisms to all writing. Bravo Mary! Bravo!
Profile Image for Shauna.
Author 20 books127 followers
February 3, 2011
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 poetry for the first time and needs to learn (or refresh) the basics.

I followed this book up with a longer, more in-depth examination of writing poetry. If you are interested in actually writing poetry, you'll probably want to to. But if you just want to understand how poems are constructed and how to read them, this book may be all you need.

Biggest plus: Easy and fast to read

Biggest minus: I was interested in learning about structured poetry with metrical lines, and this book focused too much on free verse for my taste
Profile Image for Erik Akre.
393 reviews12 followers
March 5, 2016
I thank Mary Oliver, for wasting not a minute of my time with this book. The poet is amazingly succinct in her explanation of the poem, and the writing of the poem. The word "handbook" does seem appropriate; it tells the new poet what he needs to know, and absolutely nothing more. From here one can begin to experiment, with the confidence that he at least knows enough to begin. Extremely practical and informative it is, but also inspiring. Oliver's love of poems comes right through; it is infectious.

This book alone sparked my intrigue with writing poetry; I mean that it gave me the first real sense that I too could write. There are no illusions here that writing well is easy, but there is plenty of encouragement to practice technique, practice, and seeing the world with fresh eyes.

The handbook provides quick acceleration into a writer's realm of possibility. It's not just about writing either; I have rapidly become a better reader of poems since I began it, only a week ago. Recommended highly for beginning or aspiring poets.
Profile Image for Sourbh Bhadane.
43 reviews1 follower
August 21, 2022
I am a complete noob when it comes to poetry. I don't understand what makes a poem good and what to appreciate in one. Sure, it might not take much to recognize cute metaphors, a nice meter and profound thoughts. But there were poems that just never made sense to me. Especially free verse.

This 'handbook' is intended to help aspiring poets breakdown their craft, which worked out well for me despite harboring no such aspirations. My main learning from this 'handbook' was that there are many layers to a poem. The poet is merely trying to communicate an emotion. Every element of the structure of their written poem is an attempt to communicate. The stresses, the syllable, where to break a line, where to put a blank line, the imagery, are all meant to aid this dialogue. My other takeaway was to not read a poem like prose. For habitual prose-readers the mind rushes past prose anticipating what's ahead. But a poem needs time, it begs to be read with care, with the pauses that the poet has planted. Maybe even a magnifying glass to uncover all those layers.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 739 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.