For all the would-be wordsmiths out there, I’ve got nine books to read if you want to write poetry but don’t know where to start. Pull out your favorite journal or note-taking app now and jot down a few lines — you have to begin somewhere, after all.
Being a writer is difficult, no matter what level of success you hope to achieve with your craft. If you’ve ever passed the writing reference section of your favorite bookstore, you know how overwhelming it can be to look at all the books on writing and wonder which ones you should get. Are there must-reads when it comes to crafting poetry and prose? Is it better to go it alone and without guidance?
The answer is that it’s up to you. If you’re happy with your work, then feel free to keep on keeping on. But if you feel like you need a friendly nudge in the right direction, or just want to know how other poets write, you can probably take a peek at a few of the books on the list below.
Check out the books I think you should read if you want to write poetry — some of them are poetry collections, some of them are guides, all of them will remind you why poetry is so magical:
‘A Poetry Handbook’ by Mary Oliver
From the late Mary Oliver comes this slim guide to the basics of poetic form and function. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between rhythm and meter, or if you wonder what the heck is up with iambic pentameter, this is the poetry reference book for you.
‘The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics,’ edited by Diane Lockward
Assuming you already know a little bit about form, rhyme, and meter, this collection of 30 essays from experienced poets will guide you through the writing process, from finding inspiration to making revisions.
‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith
You can’t write poetry if you don’t read poetry. For folks who haven’t read any poetry in a while, there’s Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, a lauded and timely collection of poems from the award-winning writer.
‘The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice’ by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano
For aspiring poets experiencing a dearth of inspiration, there’s this handy book of prompts. Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano’s The Daily Poet will help you to establish a daily writing practice.
‘The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry’ by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
Combining essays on the mechanics of poetry with tips on how to avoid common pitfalls, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux’s The Poet’s Companion makes a great addition to any writer’s toolbox.
‘When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities’ by Chen Chen
Another contemporary poetry collection, Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is an award-winning debut about the queer, immigrant, Asian-American experience, and it beautifully demonstrates that poems can be really funny.