Words, Words, Words: Best Writing Guides for Poets

Well, National Poetry Month is almost at a close, but we all know that poets work all year long. If you’re a writer, here’s a list of my most highly recommended books about writing poetry:

The Elements of Style – William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Generations of writers have relied on the simple, clear grammar and style guidelines of the Strunk and White guide. Even if you’re going to subvert the rules of grammar, it helps to know them well.


Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio
Addonizio is an accomplished poet and prose writer, and her second guide is loaded with creative poetry writing exercises and examples from her own and other poets’ work.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
The two authors set out to go beyond the maxim “write what you know” to figuring out what that is, how to write it, and what to do when doubt sets in.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach by Robin Behn
This book compiles articles, essays and exercises on myriad aspects of poetry from dozens of experienced poetry writers and teachers.

On the Level Everyday: Selected Talks on Poetry and the Art of Living by Ted Berrigan
Berrigans’s humor, humility, and passion provide encouragement and inspiration in this series of his transcribed lectures.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo
In Hugo’s opinionated lectures, he maintains that the poet is her own best teacher, but he offers plenty of guidance and personal experience from his own self-taught lessons.

The portable MFA in creative writing The Portable MFA in Creative Writing: Improve Your Craft with the Core Essentials Taught to MFA Students by the New York Writers Workshop
With a poetry section that includes a self-driven eight-week lesson plan, this book provides instruction, inspiration, and tips on everything from what to write to how to workshop.The Art of Attention

The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye by Donald Revell
More of a meditation than a guide, this slim book explores the element of attention and presence in a poet’s consciousness. (from the Art of… series of books in which writers discuss parts of the craft)

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
This heartfelt advice from a tremendously important poet has earned its place as a classic in thousands of poets’ hearts.
2010 Poet’s Market. Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer’s Digest Books
Poet’s Market publishes its comprehensive guide yearly, including detailed submission and publication information on thousands of literary magazines and several essays and articles with advice for poets seeking publication.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie GoldbergBird by bird : some instructions on writing and life
Brief, quirky chapters offer advice on the process and writing in general.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Highly recommended. Lamott’s clever, funny guide is down-to-earth and encouraging, with practical advice on finding your voice and writing it down.

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
The author outlines strategies for connecting everyday activities to your interior life and aspirations, from the decision to write, through the process, and after you’ve published.

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes
Writing can be full of scary pitfalls like rejection, angering people, and revealing your innermost thoughts. This guide examines those fears and offers ways to use the fear and write through it.

How I write : the secret lives of authorsHow I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors edited by Dan Crowe with Philip Oltermann.
This gorgeously illustrated collection of writer’s talismans, tricks, superstitions, and lucky chairs will send you clamoring for your own equally eccentric writing ritual.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron 
Cameron offers a perspective on how to nurture creativity, regardless of the medium of expression.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh gathers poetry discussion info, books, web resources, and information specific to Pittsburgh on these pages.

Duotrope’s Digest gathers information on litmags and submission guidelines and allows you to track your submissions.

Part of the About.com database, these pages offer practical and beginner’s tips on writing, publishing, recording, and performing poems.

The Poetry Foundation publishes Poetry magazine and manages this comprehensive site loaded with poets’ biographies, poems, interviews, essays, and podcasts and audio files.

Pittsburgh Poetry Calendar is a public calendar that lists poetry-related readings and events in the city. Anyone can submit events to be listed by emailing pittsburgh@poetz.com.

Accomplished Slam poet Rachel McKibbens posts her creative poetry exercises on her blog.

Small Press Pittsburgh gathers information about local small presses including publishers, publications, bookstores, reading series, venues, and events.

– Renée


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2 responses to “Words, Words, Words: Best Writing Guides for Poets

  1. Tony

    This is an epic and wonderful post. Thank you.

    – T

  2. Cathy

    Fantastic resources, Renée. We’ll need to add them to our website.

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