How do you learn your craft, sharpen your skill, incite your imagination?
Yesterday, Cati Porter asked what books people would recommend for a beginning writer–specifically, a young fiction writer who hasn’t taken any creative writing classes or read any books on writing craft and might be crushed by rejection.
Lately I’ve been seeking out texts that can help me sharpen my skills and write better poems. While providing a broad sampling of poets and poems, they have also led me to explore particular poets’ works more deeply.
Here are a few of the books have been helpful.
Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms
This book presents the poet’s statement about their poem and their writing, along with the poem. Reading the statements helped me to think more about how I write and what directions I might want to explore. And Charles Wright’s poem “Bar Giamaica, 1959-60 inspired me to write Bar, 1999.
Other poets included are Heather McHugh, Ann Lauterbach, John Yau, and more.
For me, this book has been a gem and a turning point.
Reginald Shepherd collected multiple examples from each poet. It doesn’t rush, but lingers to give the reader a feeling of each poet’s range–and it’s a good source for exploring sequences. Again, each poet provides a statement about the way he or she is approaching work at that time. This book introduced me to sequences, especially those of Mei Mei Berssenbrugge and Cole Swenson. I’ve now working on sequences since last November.
(Amazon.com is out of stock, but I’ll bet you can get it at Open Books.)
The Verse Book of Interviews provides the poets’ insights without the poems. I miss the poems, but the book does offer a great diversity of aesthetics and approaches.
These three have been the most helpful to me, and I’ve returned to them many times–while reading lots of poetry. I remain convinced that one of the best ways to learn and get inspired is to read a wide variety of poems. Currently, I’m inside Patti Smith’s collection of William Blake. Next up? More Anne Carson and some John Ashbery.
What do you read to open new doors? If you’ve found some treasures, please tell us in the comments.
Cati started the list with Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones. Many other people on Facebook added their suggestions. I proposed One Continuous Mistake. I also recommended reading tons of fiction, because I learn the most about poetry by reading poetry. And I thought that reading biographies or memoirs of well-known writers might be helpful, because most of those writers were rejected, too. Finally, I wished there was a comic book about rejection. I’ve got some ideas…