Friday, October 27, 2006

Practical Poetics

Over the last few years, I've become addicted to reading poets' accounts of the more quotidian side of writing -- how they got started, what they do when they get up in the morning, where they find inspiration, how they avoid bankruptcy, etc. I find these essays uniquely inspiring, perhaps mostly because they show that Charles Simic or Donald Hall or Galway Kinnell struggle (or once did) with some of the same challenges I do. I look to them for tips on self-discipline and survival. Those that focus on craft also make a good substitute for a writing class in a pinch.

Props to The University of Michigan Press for almost single-handedly propelling this genre through its Poets on Poetry series, for which Donald Hall and David Lehman serve as editors. It includes dozens of books on writing by just about every major American poet. Especially noteworthy is Donald Hall's Claims for Poetry (originally published in 1982), an anthology of some of the best essays on poetics I've read yet. The essay that starts it off, A.R. Ammons' "A Poem Is a Walk," shifted my entire perspective on writing. If I were going to teach a class on writing poetry, I think Claims for Poetry would be the only required reading beyond actual poems.

Plus, who could resist that retro green cover? The stick-on font? The two-tone urine-yellow lettering? The dorkiness is so overwhelming it's transcendent.

Anyway, more Poets on Poetry books will surely be on my own reading list for the coming year. If you have other recommendations, let me know.

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