Looking for books on poetry
October 20, 2010 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend books of essays on poetry that aren't poetry-writing manuals?

I've read Robert Haas's Twentieth Century Pleasures and Joseph Brodsky's On Grief and Reason and Less Than One. Are there any other books like this, which discuss (but don't teach the craft of) poetry? I'm aware of Frances Mayes' The Discovery of Poetry, Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual, and all the other books out there that help you learn how to write poetry, and that's not what I'm looking for. I want poets discussing poetry. Thanks.
posted by luke1249 to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Randall Jarrell. Poetry and the Age. A Sad Heart at the Supermarket. The Third Book of Criticism. Brilliantly insightful. Beautifully written.
posted by copperykeen at 7:03 AM on October 20, 2010

If you're up for a bit of a challenge, you might enjoy the Collected Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill which was published a couple of years ago.

Hill's currently the Oxford professor of poetry and his CCW won the Truman Capote Award for literary criticism.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:10 AM on October 20, 2010

I asked a similar question a few years ago. You might some helpful answers there.
posted by aparrish at 7:12 AM on October 20, 2010

Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town might be right up your alley.
posted by fryman at 7:24 AM on October 20, 2010

I was just reading a recent book called A Reader's Guide to Wallace Stevens. Although most of of the book is taken up by poem-by-poem commentary of Stevens's poems, there's an appendix at the back on the topic of reading poetry in general. I found it unpretentious and direct and personal.
posted by Paquda at 7:27 AM on October 20, 2010

Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot both wrote essays that talk about poetry but not in a "how to" sense, if you are up for something complicated.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:33 AM on October 20, 2010

Try out The Dyer's Hand by W. H. Auden. Not all of the essays are about poetry, but the ones that aren't are about aesthetics and life in ways that they might as well be about poetry anyway.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:35 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed John Haines' Living Off the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place. If it's up your alley, I also recommend picking up Fables and Distances.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:49 AM on October 20, 2010

The Castle of Indolence, by Thomas Disch.

Our Savage Art, by William Logan.

Ambition and Survival
, by Christian Wiman. (If for nothing else but his observation that "wielding power in the poetry world is roughly the equivalent of cutting a wide swath through your local PTA.")

The Mays of Ventadorn, by W.S. Merwin.
posted by Iridic at 7:52 AM on October 20, 2010

You might like After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:56 AM on October 20, 2010

Whoops. Hit post instead of link. Anyway--After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography. I'm also partial to Stephen Dunn's Walking Light (there's some writing advice in it but I don't see that as the sole motivation for the book--though Dunn is one of my favorite poets so I might be biased).
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:59 AM on October 20, 2010

Oh, also--I admit I haven't read this yet but I'm very keen to: Poetry's Afterlife by Kevin Stein. (He was my teacher in college and I've sustained an admiration for his work.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:11 AM on October 20, 2010

Randall Jarrell, no question. Also, you might find Nicholson Baker's novel The Anthologist amusing.
posted by mattbucher at 8:24 AM on October 20, 2010

Close Calls with Nonsense
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2010

I recently heard a rumor that David Orr (who writes funny but probing stuff about poetry in the NY Times book review -- e.g. this and this) has a book coming out in April.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:40 AM on October 20, 2010

Several (but not all) of the pieces compiled in Ted Hughes' Winter Pollen are about poetry.
posted by misteraitch at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2010

Robert Graves wrote a number of books and essays on poetry.

Kingsley Amis has some thoughts on the subject as well, but you're on your own as far as digging them up is concerned.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:39 AM on October 20, 2010

Have a look at Blue Peninsula -- a mother uses poems to help her to live with the grief of her son's illness. Could be an instruction manual for psychological CPR.
posted by Corvid at 12:29 PM on October 20, 2010

How to Read a Poem: and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch.

Does what it promises. Great for reenergizing or guiding interest as a reader.

You might also be interested in a collected set of his essays, Poet's Choice.
posted by nita at 1:31 PM on October 20, 2010

Helen Vendler's critical works, e.g. The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets, would seem to fit the bill. You might also look at Christopher Ricks, The Force of Poetry.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:36 PM on October 20, 2010

Wow, great response! I'm still going through and looking at all the links. Thanks, everyone!
posted by luke1249 at 3:55 AM on October 21, 2010

Donald Hall's Death to the Death of Poetry
posted by dizziest at 7:42 AM on October 21, 2010

Seamus Heaney's collection of selected prose, Finders Keepers is largely poetry criticism (or related matters). It's also dirt cheap, less than 5 bucks from the Strand.
posted by Jahaza at 9:28 PM on September 28, 2011

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