Cover image for The complete idiot's guide to writing poetry
The complete idiot's guide to writing poetry
Moustaki, Nikki, 1970-
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Publication Information:
Indianapolis, IN : Alpha Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 338 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
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PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1059.A9 M68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Author Notes

Nikki Moustaki holds an M.A. in creative writing/poetry from New York University and an MFA in the same from Indiana University. She is the recipient of a 2001 National Endowment for the Arts Grant in poetry. Nikki has taught both poetry and fiction writing at New York University and Indiana University, as well as fiction, memoir, and poetry writing at the Gotham Writers' Workshop in New York City. Her publishing credits include Quarterly West, Cream City Review, Alaska Quarterly, TriQuarterly, Spoon River Poetry Review, Many Mountains Moving, PIF Magazine, American Literary Review, Yemassee Review, Madison Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, and Yankee Magazine, among others. Nikki hosts the writing Web site, featuring writing services and interviews with contemporary poets. You can e-mail her at for information on upcoming private workshops and poetry critique.

Table of Contents

Part 1 What Is Poetry and How Do I Write It?
1 What Is Poetry and How Do I Begin to Write?p. 3
Where Does Poetry Come From?p. 4
How Does Poetry Function?p. 5
How a Poem Functionsp. 6
Reading and Writingp. 7
What Is a Poet?p. 8
Do You Have to Have Talent to Write Poetry?p. 9
Why Write Poems?p. 11
Uses for a Poemp. 14
Exercisesp. 14
2 Exposing Poetry's Bones: What Poetry Is Made Ofp. 17
Rivets and Beamsp. 18
Imageryp. 18
Metaphorp. 19
Repetitionp. 19
Musicp. 20
Languagep. 21
Linep. 21
Stanzap. 23
Nuts 'n' Boltsp. 23
Speakerp. 23
Symbolp. 24
Ironyp. 25
Hyperbole and Understatementp. 26
Allusionp. 28
Content (What Are You Going to Write About?)p. 28
Basic Types of Poemsp. 29
Formal Poetryp. 29
Free Versep. 30
Performance Poetryp. 30
How Do I Put All These Things Together?p. 30
Exercisesp. 31
3 Getting Started (and Over the Fear of Starting!): The Poetic Processp. 33
The Poet's Toolboxp. 34
Writing Utensilsp. 34
Write On!p. 35
A Room of One's Ownp. 35
Other Essentialsp. 35
The Blank Pagep. 36
Waiting for the Musep. 36
Reading for Inspirationp. 37
Freeing Yourself of the Ordinaryp. 37
A Note on Practicep. 38
Great Openingsp. 38
Closurep. 39
How to Know If What You Are Writing Is "Good"p. 40
The Five Sensesp. 40
Have You Said What You Wanted to Say?p. 40
Words, Words, Wordsp. 41
Show Your Writing to Someone Elsep. 41
Exercisesp. 42
4 All Your Words Fit to Print (and Some That Aren't!): Keeping Journalsp. 43
What Is Journaling?p. 44
The Importance of Journalingp. 44
The Difference Between a Journal and a Diaryp. 44
When to Write in Your Journalp. 45
Types of Journalsp. 45
The Short Course in Journalingp. 47
Extracting Poems from Your Journalsp. 47
A Poem a Dayp. 48
Exercisesp. 49
Part 2 Opening the Stanza's Door: Entering Poetry
5 Painting with Words: Imageryp. 53
No Ideas but in Thingsp. 54
Show, Don't Tellp. 54
Literal and Figurative Imagesp. 55
Abstract vs. Concretep. 56
The Five Sensesp. 56
Visual Imageryp. 57
Auditory Imageryp. 58
Tactile Imageryp. 58
Olfactory Imageryp. 59
Taste Imageryp. 59
Synesthesiap. 60
Painting with Words: How to Create an Imagep. 60
Exercisesp. 61
6 Metaphorically Speakingp. 63
Metaphorp. 64
Tenor and Vehiclep. 66
Similep. 66
Metonymy and Synecdochep. 67
Personificationp. 68
Conceitp. 69
When Good Metaphors Go Bad: Mixed Metaphorp. 70
How to Create a Metaphorp. 71
Exercises for the Metaphorically Impairedp. 72
7 Repetition, Repetition, Repetitionp. 75
Repeating Wordsp. 76
Repeating Phrases and Refrainsp. 78
Beginning and Ending Repetitionp. 78
Anaphorap. 79
Image and Symbol Repetitionp. 80
Syntactical Repetitionp. 82
Metrical Repetitionp. 83
Sonic Repetitionp. 84
Exercisesp. 84
8 The Sound of Musicp. 87
The Music of Poetryp. 88
Rhymep. 89
Straight Rhymep. 90
Slant Rhymep. 91
Internal Rhymep. 91
Identical Rhymep. 92
Other Types of Rhymep. 93
Rhyme Schemep. 94
Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonancep. 94
Onomatopoeiap. 96
Euphony and Cacophonyp. 97
Tone, Voice, and Dictionp. 97
Meterp. 99
Exercisesp. 99
9 You've Got Rhythm: Metrical Poetryp. 101
Why Poets Use Meterp. 102
What Is Meter?p. 102
The Short Course in Counting: Scansionp. 104
Metrical Variationp. 106
Blank Versep. 107
Sprung Rhythmp. 108
Accentual and Syllabic Meterp. 108
Exercisesp. 110
Part 3 Popular Types of Poems and How to Write Them
10 Tell Me a Story: Narrative Poetryp. 115
Cause and Effectp. 116
Who's the Speaker?p. 116
Point of Viewp. 118
First Person: The "I"p. 118
Second Person: The "You"p. 119
Third Person: "He" and "She" and "It"p. 120
The Collective: "We"p. 122
Dialoguep. 123
The Balladp. 125
Exercisesp. 128
11 Love and the Great Beyondp. 129
Wooing 101: Love Poemsp. 130
Desirep. 132
Writing the Eroticp. 133
Death and Grievingp. 135
Exercisesp. 142
12 The Three Faces of Eve: Persona Poems and Letter Poemsp. 145
Persona Poemsp. 146
The Dramatic Monologuep. 150
The Epistle Poemp. 151
Exercisesp. 154
13 Spellbinding!: List Poems and Ritualsp. 155
Starting with a Listp. 156
Ritualsp. 165
Exercisesp. 168
14 Some Fun Fixed Formsp. 169
Sonnetsp. 169
The Voltap. 171
Variations in and on the Sonnetp. 171
Villanellep. 174
Sestinap. 175
Canzonep. 177
Pantoump. 178
Ghazalp. 180
Haiku and Tankap. 181
Poems to Dance Byp. 183
Trioletp. 184
Exercisesp. 185
15 More Fun Formsp. 187
Acrosticp. 187
Ars Poeticap. 189
Aubadep. 191
Centop. 192
Concrete Poetry and Calligramsp. 193
Found Poemsp. 194
Light Versep. 197
Odep. 199
Pastoralp. 201
Prose Poemp. 202
Other Fun Forms to Tryp. 203
Exercisesp. 204
Part 4 Poetry and Practicality
16 Cursed Be He Who Stirs My Bones!: Avoiding Poetry Pitfallsp. 207
Using Poetic Conventionsp. 208
Language Problemsp. 209
Clichesp. 210
Obvious and Familiar Languagep. 211
Adverbsp. 211
Adjectivesp. 211
The Verb "To Be"p. 212
Lack of Focusp. 212
The "Little" Wordsp. 213
Noun-of-Noun Constructionp. 213
Overwritingp. 213
Punctuation Problemsp. 213
Grammar in a Poem?p. 214
Telling, Not Showingp. 214
Musical Mattersp. 215
Wretched Rhymep. 215
Monotonous Meter and Rotten Repetitionp. 216
Subject Matter Mattersp. 217
Melodrama and Sentimentalityp. 217
Sermonizingp. 218
The "Guess What It Is" Poemp. 218
Too Much, Too Little, Too Latep. 219
Exercisesp. 219
17 How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?: Revision, Revision, Revisionp. 221
Revise Away!p. 222
Murdering Your Darlingsp. 222
Why Revise?p. 222
What About Inspiration?p. 223
Letting a Poem "Rest"p. 223
When Good Poems Go Bad: The Quick Fixp. 224
Enough Is Just Enoughp. 224
What Does Your Poem Want to Be When It Grows Up?p. 225
The Theory That You'll Keep Getting Betterp. 225
The Death of a Poemp. 226
The Benefit of Moving Onp. 226
A Sample Revisionp. 226
Exercisesp. 229
18 To Slam or Not To Slam?: Reading Your Poetry in Publicp. 231
Why Should I Read Poetry in Public?p. 232
Where to Readp. 232
What to Expect at a Readingp. 232
Audience Etiquettep. 233
Reader Etiquettep. 234
Slamming and the Spoken Wordp. 234
What Is Spoken Word?p. 235
How a Slam Worksp. 236
Writing for Listenersp. 237
Starting a Reading Series or a Slamp. 239
Exercisesp. 240
19 Writing in a Vacuum: Workshops, Colonies, Conferencesp. 241
What Is a Poetry "Workshop"?p. 242
Critiquep. 243
How a Workshop Worksp. 244
Become an Active Critic in Your Workshopp. 245
Workshop Etiquettep. 246
Workshop Pitfallsp. 247
Workshops and Other Poetry Forums on the WWWp. 248
Starting a Workshopp. 248
Finding Mr. or Mrs. Critic "Right"p. 249
Writers' Conferencesp. 249
Writers' Coloniesp. 250
The Creative Writing Degreep. 250
Types of Writing Programsp. 251
The Top Writing Programs in the United Statesp. 252
Choosing a Writing Programp. 256
Exercisesp. 257
20 Your Name in Print: Getting Publishedp. 259
Why Do You Want to Be Published?p. 260
How to Get Your Poems Publishedp. 260
Where to Send Your Poemsp. 260
When to Send Your Poemsp. 262
How to Send Your Poemsp. 262
Submission No-Nosp. 263
Simultaneous Submissionsp. 264
Paying for Publicationp. 265
Organizing Your Submissionsp. 265
An Insider Look at the Acceptance/Rejection Processp. 266
Rejection ... and More Rejectionp. 267
Stages of Rejectionp. 267
The Big Day: Publication!p. 268
Contestsp. 269
A First Bookp. 269
Chapbooksp. 270
Self-Publishingp. 270
What a Tangled Web We Weavep. 270
Exercisesp. 271
21 Pen Out of Ink?: Beating Writer's Blockp. 273
Exercise #1 I Gotta Use Words When I Talk to You: From Diann Blakelyp. 274
Exercise #2 A Rose Is Not a Rosa: From Richard Blancop. 276
Exercise #3 About the Author: From Catherine Bowmanp. 277
Exercise #4 The Swing Shift Blues: From Richard Cecilp. 278
Exercise #5 Obsessive Definitions: From Denise Duhamelp. 279
Exercise #6 The Day the Pleasure Factory Broke Down: From Stephen Dunnp. 281
Exercise #7 Clustering: From Lola Haskinsp. 281
Exercise #8 Poetic Dialogue: From Dean Kostosp. 283
Exercise #9 The Best and the Worst: From David Lehmanp. 283
Exercise #10 What's in a Name?: From Lyn Lifshinp. 284
Exercise #11 Graphing Your Life: From Campbell McGrathp. 285
Exercise #12 Not This, Not This, ... but That: From David Rivardp. 286
Exercise #13 Detail Scavenger Hunt: From Maureen Seatonp. 287
Exercise #14 Two Exercises: From Reginald Shepherdp. 288
Exercise #15 Bedroom Catalogue: From Maura Stantonp. 289
One Exercise: From Charles Harper Webbp. 291
Exercisesp. 291
22 Poetry Appreciation 101p. 293
Appreciating a Poemp. 294
Follow the Pack: Finding Good Poemsp. 294
"Feeling" a Poemp. 295
The Skills I Use, the Skills They Usep. 297
Poetry Interpretationp. 300
Lost in Languagep. 301
Exercisesp. 302
23 Writing Poetry FAQs: Most Frequently Asked Questionsp. 305
What Is Poetic License?p. 305
Why Does Poetry Have So Many Rules?p. 306
Do I Have to Capitalize the Beginning Word of Each Line in My Poem?p. 306
Why Do Some Poets Shorten Words, as in O'ercast, E'er, 'Mong, 'Twould, 'Twas, Etc.--You Get the Pointp. 306
Someone Told Me I Shouldn't Use Thee, Thy, Dost, and Other Words Like Them. Why Not?p. 307
Where Should I Break My Lines? Can't I Just Break Them Anywhere I Want?p. 307
What Do I Do If a Line in My Poem Is Too Long and Runs Over onto the Next Line?p. 308
How Do I Title My Poems?p. 308
Do I Have to Use Stanzas in My Poems?p. 308
I Had an Idea for a Poem but Then I Found Out That Someone Else Wrote One with the Same Subject Matter. Can I Still Write It?p. 309
What Does It Mean When a Poet Writes a Poem After Another Poet?p. 309
I'm a Free Spirit and I Just Want to Express My Feelings, So Why Do I Have to Know Anything About Meter or Form? Aren't Those Things Passe Anyway?p. 309
I Want to Try Writing Some Fixed Forms. Do I Have to Adhere Strictly to the Form, or Can I Play Around with It a Bit? If I Do, Is It Still a Formal Poem?p. 310
Does Anyone Still Take Rhyme Seriously?p. 310
Can I Use Modern-Sounding Details (Cell Phone, Coke Can, E-Mail) in a Poem and Still Have It Be Considered a Serious Poem?p. 310
I Feel Very Misunderstood by My Workshop. They Just Don't "Get" What I'm Trying to Do. Should I Try to Find a New Workshop or Quit Trying the "Group Thing" Altogether?p. 311
Isn't Poetry Just About Creating Something Beautiful? Making Beauty out of the Language?p. 311
Do I Have to Copyright My Poems?p. 312
How Do I Get a Book of Poems Published?p. 312
If I Keep Writing Poetry, Will I Be "Discovered"?p. 313
I've Never Shown My Poems to Anyone Else Before and I'm Afraid To--but I Want Some Feedback--What Should I Do?p. 313
A Glossary of Poetic Termsp. 315
B Resourcesp. 323
Indexp. 329