August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday--The Poetry Home Repair Manual

A little while back I posted a Poetry Friday entry on Braided Creek by Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison. I looked for more works by the two, and found that Ted Kooser had a how-to guide called The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska Press, 2005). I got my hands on a copy and read it through.

Much of what Kooser tells the reader is common sense. For instance, he says that a title and the first few lines of a poem do a lion's share of the work. The thing about the book, though, it is so well written that even the basic information is a pleasure to read.

I found myself putting little markers on all the pages that had some phrase or bit of advice that I wanted to save. My copy of the book looks a little like a paper porcupine!
"Revision, and I mean extensive revision, is the key to transforming a mediocre poem into a work that can touch and even alter a reader's heart. It's the biggest part of the poet's job description."

"Another note to tack up over your desk: Too much cleverness in poetry can be a real killer."

"Perhaps there have always been people who took up writing poems just so they could talk about themselves, but self-indulgent poetry almost always disappears in time, a victim of its own failure to engage the need and interests of others. It takes a grateful audience to keep a poem alive."
Kooser's voice is loud and clear. He speaks to the reader, he doesn't lecture.

He does a fine job of illustrating his points with contemporary poems (with one from Gerard Manley Hopkins) and a few of his own, including this one:

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood in the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

One last note: I found the chapter entitled, "Fine-Tuning Metaphors and Similes" to be particularly helpful to me, a novice, but I think it would also be something a reader of poems would benefit from.

The Poetry Friday Round-Up for today is being hosted by Andromeda Jazmon at a wrung sponge. Stop by!


  1. Great info! Thanks for letting us know about this. Have a good weekend.

  2. That book is excellent - even though much of the info isn't new, it's all good to hear again, and sometimes he makes it understandable in a fresh way.

    I love his work. His book VALENTINES is chock-full of excellent short poems.

  3. I love Ted Kooser's plain-spoken way.