Part 6 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here
As explained last time I’ve been reading the poetry ‘how to’s’ on my shelf. I feel that prose writers can learn a lot from poetry. About rhythm, cadence and other effects. I’ve had a couple of poems published but I wouldn’t call myself a poet – I don’t have the technical know how. Even after reading these books I don’t feel confident in poetry, but I’ll be practising anyway.
Poetry in the making by Ted Hughes. This is a short book but it packs a punch. Lots of what Hughes says in here applies equally to prose. Aimed at children learning poetry and their teachers it also has a couple of chapters on writing novels. I feel that Hughes’s words about how to be evocative about animals, people and landscapes are worth reading every now and then so I’ll be keeping this one.
How to be a Poet by Jo Bell & Jane Commane. This one isn’t a how to write (although there are some chapters on how to draft and edit poems) but more a guide on the poet’s life, and publishing poetry. Lots in here is just as applicable to how to be a short story writer (for example) and it’s a useful book so this one stays too.
Then I read two books on the technical aspects of poetry – metre, rhyme, form etc.
The Poet’s Handbook by Judson Jerome is really technical and what he said slid off my brain. Maybe if you’re a poet this book will be useful but I didn’t find it very accessible and certainly not as good as the next book, which covered a lot of the same ground. One for the discard pile I think.
The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (yes *that* Stephen Fry). Now this was a technical introduction to poetry covering a lot of the same ground as the Jerome book. But Fry has a much better knack for explanation – assuming you know nothing and working from first principles. I found this better written, more engaging and much easier to understand than the Jerome. So I’ll be keeping it. Besides I have yet to do any of the poetry exercises in there.
I’m currently reading Gyles Brandreth’s Dancing by the Light of the Moon which is about memorising poetry to keep your brain active (based on his Radio programme Poetry by Heart) which will round out my poetry reading. It’s not a how to book so not being put to the test. I’ll also be reading This is a Voice and A Mouthful of Air because they pertain to spoken language (and performing) but they’re not ‘writing books’ per se.
Next time round I’ll be moving onto How to Fiction books. All writers start as readers and the writer’s path should start with an effort to understanding what you’re reading. So the books I’ll be reading first on fiction will be Reading Like a Writer, Understanding Fiction and Understanding Novels…
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