Finishing a book that’s been on your reading list for six years always feels like an accomplishment. Especially when it’s something my grandmother had specifically requested. Here is my Goodreads review of Michael Baldwin’s “The Way to Write Poetry”. You can also learn a bit more about my grandmother and this book in my blog post from last year.
My grandmother died in 2011 with a lot of unfinished business as a writer and poet. In the final days of her life she lamented having never really fulfilled her dreams, and urged me to continue with my own writing. She left me this book (and many others) when she died and it’s taken me until now to finally it.
The front cover of my edition of ‘The Way to Write Poetry’ (reprint 1987) includes the subtitle ‘a complete guide to the basic skills of writing poetry’ but I think this is a little misleading. The subtitle implies simplicity and this book is definitely not simplistic or written in layman’s terms, it’s comprehensive and (at times) reads like a cryptic poem.
The book has 12 chapters and each is broken down into numbered sub-sections. I think the book would have been more user-friendly if each chapter and section had been given descriptive names. I didn’t read the book like a novel, but worked my way through each of the sub-sections, sometimes spending a day or two (even weeks) on particular sections practicing the techniques, getting to know a poetic form or device outlined in the chapter.
I found the first half of the book to be very helpful in terms of actually constructing a poem. The author shared specific techniques for writing a poems as well as how to start an overall writing practice. The book moves through a broad range of forms and uses examples from famous as well as lesser known poets to illustrate techniques.
I found the second half of the book a bit onerous as the author seemed to use a microscope to analyse some complex poems. Sentences like ‘So let us consider it as a six-stressed line, in origin five dactyls followed by a spondee. Precedence says that any dactyl except the fifth may have a spondee substituted for it.” were common.
This isn’t necessarily a criticism it’s more about writing a review that explains the essence of the book. I found a lot of it quite hard to follow, and had to really concentrate and re-read sections to understand what the author was saying. But at the same time I have emerged from the reading eager to study (and write) more poems.
Overall I found the book excellent and very useful and feel more connected to my grandmother because of it.
Grandma left me a lots of writing guides, fine literature and poetry books when she died. Most of them are still in Australia. Each trip back I try to include a few more in my luggage so eventually the whole priceless collection will be here with me in the Philippines.
© 2017 Melinda J. Irvine