While trawling through the shelves to find inspiration for another post tonight I found a well-thumbed, and somewhat beaten, copy of Mary Oliver’s ‘A Poetry Handbook‘. Designed for those who haven’t grasped meter, tone, form, imagery or even revision, the book is a very useful start to anyone. Poets’ both established and new could learn a great deal from the prose of Oliver – herself a highly commended writer.
From Dickinson to Roethke, Mary Oliver pulls quotes and examples from many great poets to emphasize the use of of her points. The acknowledgments at the rear of the book are essential on any writer/reader’s shelf and would form a strong foothold into poetic reference for any new writer. In this sense the book is also useful for established writers – a revisit to the very basics in craft and form, a chance to look at writing from the initial building blocks upward.
Oliver builds on the ideal of ‘vocation’ in her book – that poets are born not taught. Sculptors, painters and musicians, they are all born. But all of them must grasp their histories, theories and techniques. That is the same advice that is passed in every poetry workshop, classroom, lecturehall and handbook – read what has gone before. Integrated cleverly into the handbook are poems, teasers, to give the reader a taste. And an understanding of the practical use of what they have read.
Any writer should find a copy of Oliver’s handbook and enjoy it, for nostalgic reasons if not for artistic benefit.