here’s the list of recommended reading about craft; some books are more important than others.
Addonizio, Kim and Dorianne Laux. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.
The authors are good, widely published contemporary poets, with a fresh take on the subject. My copy is quite fresh, so it’s probably still in print.
Corn, Alfred. The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody. Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 1998.
Good basic introduction. Many of these books cover the same ground, but each has a unique angle. Small press, well-known local author; may be hard to find.
Finch, Annie. A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2012.
Encyclopedic. If you can only afford one book, this might be it.
Furniss, Tom and Michael Bath. Reading Poetry: An Introduction. London: Prentice Hall Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996.
Might be hard to find. Seems intended for university students who may not ever be poets themselves, it covers all the major tools of poetry. Definitive.
Fussell, Paul. Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965; rev. ed., 1979.
A standard, if not still in print, probably readily available used. Focus is just that, meter in the first section, form in the second. As with many of these books, the Suggestions for Further reading is useful.
Glück, Louise. Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1994.
Author is winner of Nobel Prize and thus a heavy hitter; she has a rigorous and somewhat dark mind. I’d call this “advanced reading.”
Hass, Robert. A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry. NewYork: Ecco, 2017.
Another big name writes a craft book between collections as a way to make a buck and keep his name in the eye of the reading public. Author is being either ironic or sardonic—the book is 446 pages. That said, the book is thorough and the style relaxed and accessible. Hass is a fine poet and this is a good read; still in print, but, as Portlanders say, “spendy” ($29.99).
Hartman, Charles O. Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1980.
If you want to write just free verse (most of us do these days), this is the book for you. Examines the function of rhythm in poetry—and in free verse, rhythm is all we have.
Hoagland, Tony. Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2006.
The late Tony Hoagland wrote much poetry that is both funny and transcendent, a real feat. An easy read, explores some corners not covered much elsewhere, such as diction and tone. Recommended.
Hollander, John. Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
Hollander’s amazing skill with language and form may eclipse the content of his work—at least, he’s not much read these days. But this little (54 pp.) book is a tour-de-force, as he writes something about each form in the form itself. Dazzling and very useful. I got mine used at Powell’s for $3.50. Recommended.
Kinzie, Mary. A Poet’s Guide to Poetry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Another one-volume biggie that covers everything; good section on terminology, not found elsewhere.
Kooser, Ted. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005; pbk ed. 2007.
Accessible tone, brief (153 pp.), and very helpful. “Most of a poet’s education is self-education,” Kooser writes in the introduction, “and most of what you’ll learn you’ll teach yourself through reading and writing poems. ….But the craft of writing and meticulous revision can be taught.” Recommended.
Lakoff, George and Mark Turner. More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Okay, here’s your metaphor book, gotta have one. Considers metaphor in many ways.
Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry. London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2016.
This 114-page defense of poetry despite its “insufficiency” is a great read. I got my copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris for 14 euros, but there may be an American edition.
Longenbach, James. The Art of the Poetic Line. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2008.
The go-to book on line breaks. Recommended.
Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry. New York: Harcourt, 1994.
If you like Mary Oliver’s poetry (and many do), you’ll like this book. Covers most of the basics, in short order.
Pinsky, Robert. The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
True to its title, the book is brief and concentrates on sound, what we hear when we hear poetry. Good little book.
Theune, Michael, ed. Structure and Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns. New York: Teachers and Writers Collective, 2007.
May be hard to find. The turn in a poem is not often addressed in books like these, so this one is a find. Nine chapters by nine authors on different types of structure. A lot to think about. I have two copies of this book because I find myself in a book shop out of town somewhere and can’t remember what I already have.
Tufte, Virginia. Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Cheshire, CT: Graphic Press, 2010.
A closer, more technical look at syntax, very valuable. You might be able to get it from the publisher. “How sentences work and what they can do.”
Voigt, Ellen Bryant. The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009.
*** Highly recommend. Should be easy to find, probably still in print. Graywolf’s “The Art of” series is a good one. For poets who write in complete sentences especially, syntax is an amazing tool, but it requires skillful handling.
Williams, Miller. Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1986. Another standard. Even if you never write formal poetry, you need to know about form(s). It pays to read the canonical poets of the past, their minds and voices echo down the years. I think of each of my poems as a tiny grain on the vast heap of English literature
—and you need to know something of that heap.
Wrigley, Robert. Nemerov’s Door: Essays. North Adams, MA: Tupelo Press, 2021.
Not so crafty as most in this list, this is like a hike with someone who intimately knows and loves the trail, by one of my favorite poets.
Young, Gary and Christopher Buckley. One for the Money: The Sentence as a Poetic Form. A Poetry Workshop Handbook and Anthology. Spokane, WA: Lynx House Press, 2012.
A fun read, most examples are one-sentence poems, a feat somewhat like prestidigitation—good poems that also say, “Look what I can do!” Thought-provoking, with good exercises and examples.
The book’s epigraph taken from an interview with Robert Creeley when he was making a joke; Creeley was my first poetry teacher, and if I’d followed him I would have gone to San Francisco—
but there was a war and the draft board was onto me.
Yikes, compiling this list has made me want to read some of them all over again. These are all on my shelves in my chaotic studio and you are welcome to borrow one at a time, but I want them back, so I can lend them to others. Many of these have suggestions for further reading, which will widen your lens on the field. The library may have some of these, and Powell’s is a good source of used books, where I have gotten several of these, in the poetry section, after individual poets and anthologies. You can’t read too many craft books, because everyone has their own viewpoint; but at some point you just have to get in your own little craft and start paddling.