Tuesday, February 17, 2009


When Kim Addonizio and Doriane Laux's The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry arrived in the mail a couple of years ago, I was riding a wave -- writing almost every day, mostly poems in my forthcoming collection -- and just couldn't get into it. Structured around old maxims like, "Write about what you know", it seemed too low level; like The Artist's Way, aimed more at novices -- or the workshop leaders obliged to prompt them -- than experienced writers like me, in the thick of writing already. But now that I'm going through a bit a dry phase -- haven't written a poem yet this year, and last year was mostly devoted to editing and refining -- I find the book actually refreshing. In the first chapter, "Writing and Knowing",

Few of us begin to write a poem about "death" or "desire". In fact, most of us begin by either looking outward: that blue bowl, those shoes, these three white clouds. Or inward: I remember, I imagine, I wish, I wonder, I want... the trick is to find out what we know, challenge what we know, own what we know, and then give it away in language: I love my brother, I hate winter, I always lose my keys.

Of course... but a good reminder. Featuring well-written chapters on creative subjects like The Family, Death and Grief, Writing the Erotic, Witnessing, Poetry of place, and including fine exemplary poems by the likes of Li Young Lee, Philip Levine and Susan Mitchell -- plus of course all those intriguing writing prompts -- it shows once again that there's always lots of ground to cover, and gives valuable clues as to how to approach that ground. In a world flush to the gills with how-to books on writing, this one distinguishes itself.

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