First up, I don’t necessarily think of myself as a master poet, although the manuscript I’m working on now is poetry. So in the last year or so, I’ve scouted out the poetry sections of every bookstore I’ve visited and read lots of verse, free and otherwise. One book that has ended up dog-eared and worn on my desk is William Packard’s

The Art of Poetry Writing: A Guide for Poets, Students, and Readers.

Packard (1933-2002), founder of the The New York Quarterly offers up a book is both an artistic and practical guide to the genre, applicable for writers, readers, and teachers alike.
It begins with a brief but concise history of poetry, and ends with thoughts on the life of a poet. In between are the nuts and bolts of various poetic genres, structures, devices, and forms, plus 30 writing exercises that seek to extend a writer’s craft as a poetry practitioner.

On The New York Quarterly web site, a memorial to Packard notes that he saw poetry as both an inspired high art form and a practicable craft. “Art is hard,” he wrote in an essay on the teaching of poetry, “and the writing of poetry is a crucial experience, consisting of crisis and sacrifice, and it must be pursued with pride and seriousness. It should be a risk of the will, a test of the intellect, and a heightening of the heart.” So while Packard acknowledges the high art of poetry, he also offers up no-nonsense access for a writer interested in working in the genre.

Packard writes, “Image and sound and voice—these are the three techniques of the craft of poetry.” I loved the exercises on cacophony, synonyms and antonyms, oxymoron, and verse forms, but there are prompts that will be useful for any would be poet. There is also a handy chapter on reading while writing, which gives a comprehensive reading list.

One of the best lectures I heard during my tenure at Vermont was one from Ron Koetrge on the value of poetry for the prose writer. His suggestion was to begin each day reading a bit of poetry to let the words wash over you as inspiration. I would suggest taking it one more step. Write a short poem everyday. Consider it a craft workout, and The Art of Poetry Writing is a great way to get started.

Packard, William. The Art of Poetry Writing: A Guide For Poets, Students and Readers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

You can also preview this book via Google Book Search.

This is a Tollbooth Classic post, written by Helen Hemphill, one of the original Tollboothers