5 Best Books on Writing Poetry

Sonia Akavan
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The most important thing in your quest for becoming a better writer is reading, reading, and more reading. There are dozens and dozens of writers in the world, and each one has a unique writing style.

You should learn as much as possible from all of them. However, some writers are particularly interesting. Some writers really know how to create a world with just a few words.

Here are 5 books by some of these kinds of writers.

By now, you probably already know about the massive significance of Jack Kerouac. He is seen as one of the founders of the Beat Generation, which paved the way for a more free-flowing style of writing. This style is called Beat, but it also has another name: free verse.

While you may have some idea about free verse, you may not know exactly what it is or how a free verse poem should be structured. The style is definitely not for everyone, but it has plenty of advantages such as being easy to write and read.

Beat Poetry was born in the 1940s, and it subverted the rules of writing poems. The poems instead tried to reflect the idea that words are just noises coming out of someone’s mouth. Of course, no one is restricted to writing like this.

If you’re interested in learning how to write free verse poetry, this book is for you.

NameCategoryProduct
The Complete PoemsBest OverallThe Complete Poems
Spring and AllBudget PickSpring and All
Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern PoetryUpgrade PickPoems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry

1. The Complete Poems

Our rating: 9 / 10

The Complete Poems

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Pros:

  • An outstanding poetry collection
  • Ugly yet beautiful page layout
  • Helps to answer the question “does poetry have to rhyme?”

The book is a compilation of poems written by Anne Sexton right before her death. You get to experience her first steps as a writer and accompanied by captivating images that further highlight the dark beauty of her poems.

Anne Sexton truly was a great poet. This book is a compilation of all her works. She has such an amazing view of the world and by reading her poems, you get to know a little more of the world through her eyes.

As a big fan of poetry books, I liked this book a lot. It is a compilation of all her poems and she has a unique way of writing. Many of her books contain dark topics written in such a beautiful way. This book just make you realize how brilliant she really was. It is a great collection of poems.

2. Spring and All

Our rating: 8 / 10

Spring and All

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Pros:

  • Poetic and Philosophical
  • Relentlessly Contemporary
  • A Critic at His Most Balanced
  • The Lives of Art
  • ¾ of a Century
  • ¾ of a Century
  • Earth’s Urgent Longing
  • The American Sublime
  • Writer, Poet, Mystic
  • The Poet as Philosopher

Cons:

  • Overly academic
  • Too Wary
  • In the ¾ of a Century, it is hard to believe that the author was so disillusioned with his own world.
  • Earth’s Urgent Longing got off to a promising start. However, once you read for a while, it becomes a bit repetitive. However, it is quite an impressive little ditty of a book.

Most of Allen’s poetry is quite good. Perhaps the most compelling reason to add Allen’s book to your poetry collection is that he was a very interesting character with a foot in several worlds. It is really hard to believe that Basinski can twist a genius curve ball with his actual poetry. One gets the feeling that the author wants to be the lone star in his world.

3. A Poetry Handbook

Our rating: 7 / 10

A Poetry Handbook

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Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Writes from an American perspective (though many of his outlooks are applicable elsewhere)

Cons:

  • Not targeted specifically to students
  • Some may find it too old-fashioned and stilted

Workbook for Students

The following poem is an example of one that Lehman used in his class to help demonstrate various techniques that he preaches in the book.

I wrote down all the jobs I ever had. The jobs

4. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

Our rating: 7 / 10

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

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Pros:

  • Detailed information about the history of poetic forms
  • Step-by-step information about creating of poems
  • Easy to follow instructions
  • Sections for each poetic form giving detailed information
  • Comprehensive information about rhyme schemes
  • Interesting information about the origin of each poetic form

By Alan S. Cohen

This incredible guide covers all kinds of details from analyzing traditional ballads to the analysis of ten-line poems. It also covers a fascinating array of poetic forms that few people would ever guess exist.

It’s like getting an advanced degree in writing poetry, but without having to leave the comfort of your home. If you want to take your poetry career to the next level, then this book is an absolute must-read for your collection.

5. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Our rating: 7 / 10

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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Pros:

  • Conversational style of writing
  • Skewers common fears that plague writers
  • Advises the reader to embrace the uniqueness of their work
  • A passionate defense of the importance of writing poetry
  • The book was written in 1994 and does not focus on a lot of current technology and techniques
  • Focus on writing poetry, and how to get past perfectionist tendencies to work

Cons:

  • Some people find the writing style to be a little on the stream of consciousness side
  • The author doesn’t do very well defining the best method for crafting poetry as some of her advice clashes with other methods of crafting poetry
  • Newer writers may find the book outdated.

Anne Lamott’s inspirational book on writing life, Bird By Bird, received a rave review from Publishers Weekly in 1994 which called it “A perfect book for imperfect writers.” Since then, the book has continued to inspire writers on writing poetry. Lamott shows her readers that writing doesn’t have to be a painstaking struggle and it should be enjoyed as much as the reader enjoys reading.

6. Howl and Other Poems

Our rating: 6 / 10

Howl and Other Poems

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Pros:

  • A collection of Allen Ginsberg’s best work
  • A Bob Dylan for the poetry world
  • Ginsberg’s poems are among the most influential in the history of American literature
  • Includes work from some of the Beat Generation writers
  • Includes some of his most famous works, including “Howl” and “A Supermarket in California”
  • A great introduction for the poetry novice
  • The poems are still popular today

Cons:

  • Mainly poetry written while Ginsberg was a teen and in his early 20s
  • The most noticeable thing lacking is an overarching commentary that ties Ginsberg’s work together
  • Not for the typical poetry reader

Howl, and Other Poems is one of the best books on writing poetry. If you’re a fan of the Beats, Allen Ginsberg, or poetry, this is a must-read.

In this book, Allen Ginsberg provides a snapshot of the Beat Generation, a literary movement of the 1950s and 1960s that was essentially a reacton to what the Beats saw as the conformity associated with the Cold War and post-World War II America.

7. How to Read and Why

Our rating: 6 / 10

How to Read and Why

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Pros:

  • Great Information on various genres
  • Good information on literary terms

Cons:

  • A bit too wordy
  • Some literary terms may be hard to understand

`How to Read and Why has a lot of information. At times, it seems like the author tries to cover everything, from analyzing poetry to discussing how to get through Fahrenheit 451, while ending up repeating himself.

He does spend a little time talking about the various forms of poetry and what they are classified as. He then spends some time talking about the various poetic devices, but does not give you rules on how to use them.

Overall, this is a great literary book that will be a good resource for students who enjoy literary studies and writing poetry. It would be good for a middle school or high school class to use in conjunction with a poetry writing class.

8. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

Our rating: 6 / 10

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

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Pros:

  • Easy-to-understand style of verse with modern English
  • Modern English helps to emphasize Beo’s speech
  • Lavishly annotated

Cons:

  • Less poetic than some of the other translations
  • Modern English may hard to grasp for older readers

Beowulf is considered to be among the most important works of Old English literature. It’s also one of the lengthiest and most difficult to read. Luckily, Seamus Heaney has created a new verse translation of the epic poem, which makes it much easier to read and comprehend.

The translation stays true to the original text, and it maintains the mostly alliterated Anglo-Saxon lines. You won’t lose any of the action or characterization as a result of the modernization either. The modern setting allows the poem’s drama to really shine through. If you’re looking to read Beowulf for the first time, or you absolutely hate reading older language, this translation is a great option.

9. The Cantos of Ezra Pound

Our rating: 6 / 10

The Cantos of Ezra Pound

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Pros:

  • Comprehensive collection
  • Clear and succinct
  • Excellent background information
  • Authorized edition
  • Covers all of Pound's poetry
  • Includes notes by the editor
  • Recreates the hand-set feel of the original edition

Cons:

  • At times, I wish I could to talk with the editor about the text
  • The book features many poems that speak about history, which can be difficult to grasp for a beginner to poetry
  • Pound is difficult to understand; if you don't speak Pound, you might find yourself lost on a few pages

The Cantos of Ezra Pound is an amazing and informative book that doesn't just focus on Pound's poems, but on the whole of his work. Author Hugh Kenner provides some outstanding background and analysis on how Pound's ideas evolved over the course of his career.

This collection of poems is broken down into two different sections: CANTOS (Pound's "drafts and rejected passages"), and COMPLETE POEMS OF EZRA POUND (the completed published works about which he had approval).

10. Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry

Our rating: 5 / 10

Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry

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Co-edited by Dana Gioia, Jack Foley, and Charles Altieri.

11. The Cloud Corporation

Our rating: 5 / 10

The Cloud Corporation

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Pros:

  • Crowdsourced poetry
  • Creative spin on an old idea
  • Good book for children

Cons:

  • Many poems are inaccessible
  • Variety of poets

This poetry book is a unique take on some old school poetry books. Instead of a bunch of poets with varying styles, this poetry book has a bunch of poets working together on each poem to combine their styles, resulting in a story that flows well and combines all of the separate original poems into one cohesive story.

It's a hell of a book that features not only poems but also commentary from the poets about their respective parts of the story, as well as their inspirations for writing them. This one is a good book for adults as well as children.

12. Double Shadow by Carl Phillips

Our rating: 4 / 10

Double Shadow by Carl Phillips

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Carl Phillips’ newest collection has been getting a lot of attention lately, and we are convinced that his newest collection adds to his reputation as one of the finest American poets working today. In this magnum opus, Phillips meditates on the myriad ways that death, the inevitable, affects those left behind.

It’s hard to pick a favorite poem from this collection, but we are particularly fond –Calendar of Days.” But merely reading the words that Carl Phillips writes are not enough, they must be heard. So take some time and give yourself the gift of listening to Phillips read from his new collection, Double Shadow.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What books should I read to be a better writer?

I’d certainly recommend reading some Chekhov, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Hemingway and Miller. If you want to read a fun, hilarious, and original viewpoint of love and relationships, then Jansen’s books are worth reading also. Although I’m not familiar with David Lipsky, I’d highly recommend him. He was a big inspiration for Steve Jobs, who said that Lipsky was one of his favorite writers and helped him understand his own work.

Here are some books I’d personally recommend:

  • Catcher in the Rye by Salinger
  • The Dharma Bums by Kerouac
  • On the Road by Kerouac
  • Naked Lunch by Burroughs
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut
  • Ulysses by Joyce

What are the 5 elements of a poem?

The dominant term in any analysis of a poem must be context. The content, form, genre, tone and theme are all dependent upon the concrete, tangible reality in which the poet sits when they are doing the actual work of writing the poem.

These 5 elements do not function in a vacuum. Rather, they are usually in a context. What do I mean by this?

I mean that when you read a poem, you're able to figure out what it's about, how it reads, whether it's good and why. These things aren't simple. They're complex though. And they're dynamic as well.

Great poems are able to be understood in a lot of different ways. Context is the reason that they're complex.

What are good ideas for a poem?

Go outside. Look at a tree. Listen to the sounds around you. Get inspired by the things you see and the sounds you hear. Write whatever comes into your head. Let your pen flow and be creative without trying to analyze too much or focus on the general structure until you write without thinking too hard about the next sentence." It will be great. It will be beautiful. It will be the best you've ever written.

Everyone has favorite things that they love to write about. Maybe it's a passion or hobby, a pet or song that you love, a vacation or one that you'd like to take, a motto, or thoughts about the way things are.

Conclusion

For poetry books there is no variety of quality. There is only the good kind of content and the bad kind. On this list, you will find the best poets of all time, everything from classical to contemporary, all in one place. We’ve made it a point to include a wide range of poets, regular professionals to those who have won coveted awards, even Nobel Laureates. Hopefully, you will find your favorite poets in this collection who will inspire your own writing.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
The Complete PoemsBest OverallThe Complete Poems
Spring and AllBudget PickSpring and All
Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern PoetryUpgrade PickPoems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry