Best How-To Books on Writing Poetry

One of the most frequently mentioned tips for improving any craft is to keep learning. And when it comes to poetry, adjusting to and growing alongside the ever-changing genre can only benefit writers. From learning a new poetic form to familiarizing yourself with up-and-coming online journals or the publishing process, there’s always a step to take. As usual, books stand out as one of the best guides, with more than hundreds of poets sharing their knowledge on the process. Since so many immersive resources are out there, the next hardest part is knowing where to begin. Don’t worry—Read Poetry has suggestions.


Writing Poems (8th Edition) by Michelle Boisseau, Hadara Bar-Nadav, and Robert Wallace

Written by three award-winning poets, Writing Poems combines a wide range of classic and modern-day poems, pairing them alongside related writing exercises. The book recommends the unique approach of viewing poems as “play.” Writing Poems also shows published poems throughout multiple revisions, from first draft stage to final version. This reveals how much a poem can change, encouraging writers to have faith in the process.


The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Addonizio and Laux’s text feels almost meditative in its guidance. In addition to its prompts, the book features authentic essays about writing life, including topics like self-doubt, writer’s block, and how intimidating it can feel to consider publishing. As the title suggests, it places pleasure at the forefront, replacing the typical attitude of strife and inviting room for joy. 


The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All by C.D. Wright

Wright’s books on the art of poetry are often called some of the most experimental in the genre. She weaves together memoir, instruction, and inspiration. Overall, the book serves as an ode to language.


The Art of Recklessness: Poetry As Assertive Force and Contradiction by Dean Young

Young goes against the popular definition of poetry as a “discipline,” instead passionately calling poetry “a hunger, a revolt, a drive, a fright, a tantrum, a grief…” He delves into surrealist poetry and how it can heighten the form. Above all, he talks about how poetry, at its best, comes from receptive observation. 


By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry edited by Molly McQuade

In a literary landscape where journals publish at a rate of about 75 men to 25 women—with even more complicated and discouraging statistics for women of color—this collection reimagines poetry as a female-fronted art form. By Herself includes essays by iconic poets such as Adrienne Rich and Sharon Olds who pay tribute to their even more well-known predecessors, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. Instead of simply carving out a space for women’s poetry, this book shows that women have defined the literary tradition—and encourages readers to challenge themselves to create original, unique poetry.

Happy reading—and happy writing!