8 Resources to Take Your Poetry to the Next Level by Violet Nesdoly

Here, on the doorstep of April, I’m celebrating because it’s almost National Poetry Month! What better time to think and talk about how to improve our writing in general, poetry-writing in particular? And so, I’m excited to share eight resources that have helped me in writing about poetry (as a many-year online and FellowScript poetry columnist) and in writing poems themselves.
Poetry-writing resources:

Writing Personal Poetry was my re-introduction to poetry around 1998 after being away from reading and writing it for years. Chapters like “Personal poetry and why we write it,” “Beginning to create poems,” and “Shaping poems from your beginnings” inspired me to try my hand at writing in a modern, free verse style (as opposed to the rhyming, rhythmic pieces I had always associated with poetry).

  • The Art and Craft of Poetry: What works what doesn’t and why, with methods to generate poems and examples from Shakespeare to Olds – by Michael Bugeja (Writer’s Digest Books, 1994).

That long subtitle describes the book pretty well. Bugeja, a former poetry columnist at Writer’s Digest, has organized the book’s 21 chapters under three headings: “Journals and Genres” (love, war, nature poetry etc.), “Tools of the Trade” (voice, line, stanza etc.), and “Formats and Forms” (lyric, free verse, sonnet, etc.).

You can work through the book to create a body of writing, or consult it by topic. Over the years, it has become my go-to poetry textbook. Bugeja has recently added sections and made it available as an e-book.

  • The Poetry Dictionary: 1: Defines key terms that should be in the vocabulary of every poet. 2: Incudes over 250 illustrative poems from Homer to the present day – by John Drury (FW Publications, 2006).

You don’t remember how to write a tanka, limerick, or sonnet? The Poetry Dictionary to the rescue! This is a great reference book but also a fine place to look for new poetry forms and challenges.

  • The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop edited by Diane Lockward (Wind Publications, 2013)
  • The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop edited by Diane Lockward (Terrapin Press, 2016).

A few years ago, I subscribed to Lockward’s monthly newsletter (subscribe on her blog). These epistles consist of a poetry prompt, a craft article, and a book review. In 2013 Lockward assembled a collection of the newsletter prompts and articles, added sample poems, and published them as The Crafty Poet. In 2016 she came out with a second volume.

The prompts and articles are written by Lockward and her poetry colleagues, making these books rich and varied. Not all poetry prompts are created equal. I find these interesting, evocative, and conducive to writing poems that are layered and surprising.

  • Poet Power: The Complete Guide to Getting Your Poetry Published – by Thomas A. Williams (Sentient Publications, 2002).

This is the resource you need if you have a body of poems that you’d like to self-publish (and face it, that’s what many poets do). This informative and encouraging book has helped me understand the publishing process and is full of know-how about layout and what goes where in a book. In addition, there are sections on promotion, book signings, selling books at readings and in stores, and poetry on the internet.

Poetry-reading resources:

As a poet you read poetry regularly, right? No? At our writing group a few weeks ago, one of our poets confessed, “I like to write poetry, but I don’t read much of it.” I have a feeling that’s not uncommon.

However, in addition to living by the writer’s golden rule, “Read others’ work as you would have them read yours” (and we do appreciate it when others read our work, don’t we), it’s worthwhile for a modern poet to be up-to-date on what others are writing.

Partaking of a regular helping of poetry is not hard to do or time-consuming. There are many websites that offer daily poetry emails. Two that I subscribe to (subscribe on the site’s Home page) are:

Any one or a combination of these poetry resources is sure to give your poetry a shot in the arm. April—National Poetry Month—is the perfect time to give them a try!

Violet Nesdoly lives near Vancouver B.C. and has had poetry published in Prairie Messenger, utmostchristianwriters.com, Time of Singing, Your Daily Poem, and many anthologies. She has published two books of poems, Calendar (2004) and Family Reunion (2007), and the novel Destiny’s Hands (2012). She loves trying out new poetic forms and writes often about nature and faith. She updates her poetry blog about once a week.

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