If you write poetry, Ted Kooser's book The Poetry Home Repair Manual is a delight. Kooser (pictured above) is a former US Poet Laureate who edits the syndicated column American Life in Poetry. His column usually features poets who are alive and kicking - unlike those written by his Irish counterparts (insofar as they also have newspaper columns on poetry) Ulick O'Connor and Anthony Cronin who favour long-dead poets and often long-dead poetry and who thereby do incalculable harm to public perceptions of poetry in my opinion.
OK, rant over. Where was I? Oh, yes, The Poetry Home Repair Manual. I'll be recommending to participants in my Write One Poem Workshop that they treat themselves to reading it at some stage.To see why, check out these points from the book (the points are mostly my paraphrases):
- "...express strong feelings without expressly stating those feelings...letting the behaviour of the participants show us how they feel."- Test opening lines as if approaching a stranger on the street at a crossing: would they frighten her away or would they draw her in?
- You almost always hurt a poem if you choose its structure before you concentrate on giving shape to an experience or emotion.
- ...you can think of writing your poem as a means of persuasion because a poem can be looked at as something to bring about an action. That action need not be more than a momentary change of mood, or a realisation.
- Try shifting parts of the poem around. Try swapping the end and the beginning.
- Put the exposition information into the title and not into the poem itself.
- Try writing out your poem as prose to spot simple errors.
- Consider using names, brand names, people, plants.
- There is little need to tell the reader of the speaker is happy or sad if you have carefully described the associations the character is drawing through senses.
- You can begin a poem with a comparison and then expand on that comparison tomake a whole poem.
- Consider using natural units of conversational speech.
(Kooser, Ted, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2007).