Saturday, March 6, 2010
A Poetry Handbook
Pulitzer prize winning poet Mary Oliver held the Catherine Osgood Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001, and her A Poetry Handbook is so warmly written you feel as if you're sitting in one of her workshops.
A Poetry Handbook deals primarily with the mechanics of poetry, but is a surprisingly easy, as well as inspiring read. Oliver does not at all water down the use of poetic device, but brings out the proper uses and effectiveness of the devices in examples of excellent poetry. Oliver covers basic devices like alliteration, assonance, & onomatopoeia, but never just for theory's sake, and device is never divorced from example after example of effective use in great poetry by Millay, Dickinson, Frost, Blake, and many more.
Oliver stresses imitation as key to developing your own poetic voice. Just as an art student can be found copying a Van Gogh, so should the poetry student copy the rhythms and forms of their masters, and as styles and devices become "second nature", the poet's own original voice begins to emerge.
Oliver emphasizes the most important tool for the poetry student which is reading, reading, and reading good poetry.
A Poetry Handbook qualifies both as a wonderful guide for beginning poets, as well as an invaluable reference for writers and teachers.