My poor books. For the past year and a half – due to the confluence of an invasive raccoon, the life-changing magic of tidying up, an almost pathological inability to choose a paint color, and practically perpetual inertia – they’ve been held captive in cardboard boxes in undisclosed locations all over my house.
But now they’re free, and proudly arranged in bookcases according to organizing principles only I can understand. (I’ll give you a hint. I have several different categories of favorites, each with its own shelf.) I’ve finally sacrificed my passion for visual organization for the traditional alphabetization approach, and arranged all my fiction – hardback and paperback together – rather than separating them out (though I admit my trash reading has its own bookcase). And all those books of poetry by my friends and heroes, they have their shelf – under the watchful eye of the books on how to write poetry, why you need to write poetry, and what it all means, on the shelf above.
I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see all these old friends again, finally released from their captivity. Or how delightful it is to say, “I’d like to look that up,” and be able to go directly to the shelf to find that poem or quote or story.
Now that all my books have come home to roost again, and are happily nesting with their families, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.
First of all, who can do without The Practice of Poetry, a marvelous collection of exercises edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell? This book includes such gems as Rita Dove’s “Your Mother’s Kitchen,” Garret Hongo’s “Not ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’” and Linnea Johnson’s “Personal Universe Deck.” Whether you’re a beginning writer or a published poet looking to widen your spectrum of subjects and techniques, this one is worth a try.
Along the same lines, I love Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizion and our own Dorianne Laux, which takes the reader-writer on a guided tour of a gorgeous continent of poetry, with stops in the contiguous countries of subject, craft and the writer’s life, and exercises all along the way.
Because I have such a girl-poet crush on Kim Addonizio, I also have her Ordinary Genius, which, I warn you, may make you dig more deeply into yourself than you’d originally planned.
A little-known book you might like is Susan Wooldridge’s poemcrazy, which I bought shortly after meeting her through the California Poets in the Schools program. I thought she was charming, and found her book to be equally charming, with quirky approaches to writing poems, like “collecting words and creating a wordpool” and “skin spinoff.” If you’re just starting out as a poet, or utterly stuck, I recommend her book.
Lest you think I only like the girls, I recommend Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Most of the time when I’m not writing or teaching poetry, I’m building cabinets, replacing toilets, finishing floors or sweating copper. So you can see how a home repair book about poetry might appeal to me.
If you’re like me, and enjoy playing with form, a highly useful and accessible book is Ron Padgett’s Handbook of Poetic Forms, from the terrific Teachers & Writers Collaborative, which gives you dozens of forms in alphabetical order, with easy instructions and examples.
If you write poetry with kids, as a teacher or as a parent, or if you’re a kid yourself, you’ve got to have the classic, Kenneth Koch’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams. Add to that Beyond Words, by my Lesley University colleague Elizabeth McKim and her friend Judith W. Steinbergh. Another book to add to that collection is Michael A. Carey’s Starting from Scratch, which was my guidebook all those years ago when I started out as a writer-in-the schools. It’s out of print, so it’s a little tricky to find, but worth buying if you can uncover a used copy.
Speaking of writing with kids, I hope you’ll bring yours to Margaret Lane Gallery this Friday night for our Word Bowl and Art & Poetry Treasure Hunt evening. If you don’t have kids, bring a friend, a colleague or just your sense of adventure.
Stay tuned for more book recommendations in another blog post. I’ve got a whole collection of collections—and really readable prose that talks about the importance of poetry—that I can’t wait to share with you.