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Poetry is the music of language, the fine art of the written word. It demands a broad vocabulary and creative thinking. It promotes rhythm and meter, and it invites imagery. Poetry engages the imagination, stimulates the intellect, and touches the heart.
Reading and writing poetry are excellent practices for any writer. Through poetry, we learn the nuances of language, the power of showing rather than telling, and the necessity for clear and succinct wordcraft.
Basically, poetry improves all other writing.
Whether you are a poet or not, as a writer, a basic understanding of poetry will improve your writing exponentially. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But with poetry skills in your writer’s toolbox, your writing will soar.
Poetry starts in childhood with nursery rhymes and the beloved works of authors like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. But what comes next?
There’s a vast universe of poetry out there, and it’s hard to know where to start. Many young writers are turned off by poetry because most of what they’re exposed to in school is ancient or obscure. Many students believe poetry is strictly for lovers, greeting cards, and the academic elite. But in the world of poetry, where few do more than scratch the surface, there is something for everyone. So, where does one begin?
You can start exploring poetry with a few, basic resources. Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook is foremost among them.
A Poetry Handbook
A Poetry Handbook is a simple but comprehensive guide to reading and writing poetry. It’s a perfect introductory text — ideal for beginners and for folks who have strayed from poetry but feel like it’s time to come home.
Under 125 pages, this handbook is a quick and easy read with straightforward examples and clear explanations. Oliver talks about how to read a poem, how to imitate the greats, and then gets into the technical aspects of poetry, covering sound, literary devices, line, and form. Finally, she takes a look at free verse.
A Poetry Handbook touches on reading and writing poetry. It include poems and excerpts by accomplished poets and uses them as examples to teach you the nuances, structure, and techniques that go into poetry writing.
Mary Oliver herself is an acclaimed poet, and her tone is friendly and witty and easy to follow. From the text:
Something that is essential can’t be taught; it can only be given, or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart…Whatever can’t be taught, there is a great deal that can, and must, be learned.
If you’ve ever been captivated by the magic of language, then you’ve already experienced the power of poetry. The concepts you’ll learn in working with poetry can be applied to all forms of writing, including fiction, journalism, and copywriting. So do yourself a favor and start collecting some writing resources that deal with poetry. Having read dozens of books on poetry, I recommend starting with A Poetry Handbook.