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9 Essential Writing Books for Any Poet

If you’re looking to improve your craft, reading is just as important as writing. While reading poetry collections can teach you plenty, it’s also important to hear from poets themselves. Those ready to get into the nitty-gritty may just find that books about craft are as entertaining as they are informative. To help you find a great place to start, we’ve created a list of 9 essential books for poets and writers. 

 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

One of the most famous writing guides of all time, Lamott’s Bird by Bird provides wry, down-to-earth advice for writers of all ages and abilities. From writers’ block to finding your voice to the ups and downs of publishing, there’s something in here for everyone. 

 

The Practicing Poet by Diane Lockward

If you’re ready to push beyond the basics in your poetry practice, The Practicing Poet is the guidebook for you. Split into 10 neat sections, the book offers 30 brief craft essays paired with a model poem and an analysis of it. Lockward’s dissection of each poem and what makes it tick provides readers with clear instructions on building their own intricate, beautiful poems. 

 

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

If you’re in the market for sound advice, clear writing, and concision, Zinsser is your man. Though the book is not written specifically for poets, On Writing Well provides guidelines for improvement throughout your writing (from emails to memoirs to, yes, even your poems). He also includes pages of the original manuscript to show what’s been cut, giving readers the courage to be bold and ruthless when boiling works down to the essentials only. 

 

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Take a peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of the wisdom, experience, and excitement that award-winning author Ray Bradbury brings to the page. Pulling from a lifetime of writing, Bradbury offers practical tips on the craft of writing—from finding original ideas to developing your voice, and beyond.

 

Writing Poetry to Save Your Life by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

A combination of author Gillan’s personal story and advice for writers in all stages of development, Writing Poetry to Save Your Life is a friendly, encouraging read. Without giving too much away, we’ll tell you that Gillan calls your inner critic “the crow” and offers tips on how to silence it to fully harness the power of words to express yourself. 

 

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

This witty and passionate guide to understanding and writing poetry is the perfect entry point for those new to the craft, but it’s also a great refresher for seasoned poets. Using poems by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and other greats as examples, Oliver unpacks the inner workings of matter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. 

 

The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser

Practical, tangible, and succinct, former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser pins down the essentials of poetry in this handbook by beginning with the most important piece of the puzzle: why. What is the purpose of poetry? Why do we write? Starting from here, Kooser teaches how to start, shape, and strengthen your poems overall. 

 

The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

For a mix of essays, exercises, and advice, The Poet’s Companion might just be your best friend. Though the book deals with topics like self-doubt and publishing in the electronic age, Addonizio and Laux don’t skim over the nuts and bolts of writing in the process. With one topic per chapter, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for in this helpful guide.