Cover image for A poetry handbook
A poetry handbook
Oliver, Mary, 1935-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Diego : Harcourt Brace & Co., [1994]

Physical Description:
viii, 130 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"A Harvest original."

Includes index.
Reading Level:
1130 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1505 .O35 1994 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PE1505 .O35 1994 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PE1505 .O35 1994 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PE1505 .O35 1994 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. "Stunning" (Los Angeles Times). Index.

Author Notes

Mary Oliver was born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 10, 1935. She attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, but did not receive a degree. Her first collection of poems, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963. She wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry including The River Styx, Ohio; The Leaf and the Cloud; Evidence; Blue Horses; and Felicity. She received several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light, and the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems.

Her books of prose include A Poetry Handbook, Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse, and Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. She held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College from 1995 to 2001. She died on January 17, 2019 at the age of 83.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Why another such handbook, when Babette Deutsch's and John Hollander's are more than sufficient? Because Mary Oliver does more with this book than simply review the difference between a haiku and a tanka, between free verse and blank. She starts in at poetry's real beginning, discussing the need for patient application: the need, in brief, to write and to do so regularly. She immediately proceeds by insisting on the necessity of reading poetry and of imitating favorite poets, and she even includes a chapter on the usefulness of workshops. Her chapters on those basics, sound and meter, are brief but exact, and she offers an entire chapter on free verse, another on poetic diction. But it is not really the book's contents that make it such a treasure: it is rather the pithiness and perfection of Oliver's expression. She so deeply knows her craft that she can describe it with perfect simplicity and concision. ~--Pat Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

National Book Award winner Oliver ( New and Selected Poems ) delivers with uncommon concision and good sense that paradoxical thing: a prose guide to writing poetry. Her discussion may be of equal interest to poetry readers and beginning or experienced writers. She's neither a romantic nor a mechanic, but someone who has observed poems and their writing closely and who writes with unassuming authority about the work she and others do, interspersing history and analysis with exemplary poems (the poets include James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore and Walt Whitman). Divided into short chapters on sound, the line, imagery, tone, received forms and free verse, the book also considers the need for revision (an Oliver poem typically passes through 40 or 50 drafts before it is done) and the pros and cons of writing workshops. And though her prose is wisely spare, a reader also falls gladly on signs of a poet: ``Who knows anyway what it is, that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live?'' or ``Poems begin in experience, but poems are not in fact experience . . . they exist in order to be poems.'' (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Late in his career, William Butler Yeats urged fellow poets to learn their craft. Heeding his advice, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Oliver (New and Selected Poems, LJ 10/92) provides an excellent handbook for young poets on the formal aspects and structure of poetry. Oliver excels at explaining the sound and sense of poetry-from scansion to imagery, diction to voice. She stresses the importance of reading poetry, since, in order to write well, ``it is entirely necessary to read widely and deeply.'' Sage advice is given in an entire chapter dedicated to revision, wherein Oliver urges poets to consider their first draft ``an unfinished piece of work'' that can be polished and improved later. Written in a pleasant and lucid style, this book is a wonderful resource for teachers of poetry. Highly recommended for all school libraries.-Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

One does not expect originality in a handbook which, by definition, should be a straightforward statement of the terms, techniques, and technicalities of reading and writing poetry. But Mary Oliver is herself an accomplished poet and manages to bring to this book a degree of intelligence and wit that makes reading about iambs and quatrains, alexandrines and tercets a fresh and refreshing experience. For example, after a discussion of the origin and nature of free verse, Oliver stops and summarizes everything she has written to this point about it with the insightful brevity of sudden understanding: "Speech entered the poem. The poem was no longer a lecture, it was time spent with a friend." Probably nothing better has been written about free verse in fewer than 20 words. There are three special chapters addressed principally to writers, which frankly address the need for revision and solitude, the strengths and limitations of attending a writing workshop, and the long hours of unacknowledged work necessary to be a poet. This brief book inspires while it educates. It offers every reader an accessible appreciation for both the reading of poetry and the process of writing it. General and academic audiences. P. J. Ferlazzo; Northern Arizona University