What is the quintessential poetry style guide book (if one exists)?
May 27, 2016 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My wife just graduated with her masters in poetry and I'd love to get her a high quality, hardcover, commemorative book.

Hi all,

I was thinking of a hardcover edition of "Strunk and White's The Elements of Style." but, although she's an avid writer in all styles, poetry is where her heart is. That's not to say S&W's _isn't_ the perfect choice but I want to make an informed decision.

Does there exist a book of the same caliber as S&W but for the more poetry minded? Of course, I'd love to hear other ideas. She's also writing a verse novel at the moment, if that info lends to the choices at all.

posted by TimBridge to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That's a cool question, and this is not the answer to it, but I really liked reading this book my friend got for me: http://www.ohioswallow.com/book/All+the+Fun%E2%80%99s+in+How+You+Say+a+Thing
posted by Don Pepino at 2:59 PM on May 27, 2016

I dabble in poetry, and I would not be thrilled with Strunk & White, though of course, HMMV.

I like The Art of the Poetic Line and A Poet's Guide to Poetry.

Who's her favorite poet? A nice hardcover edition of their collected works would be a nice idea too. There's nothing as inspirational as reading other poetry.
posted by redlines at 3:15 PM on May 27, 2016

I'm a poet. I think if you have to ask this question, this is not the type of gift you should buy her. Literary aesthetic is so personal, and what one values is too. (I don't care about first editions or nice hardcovers, though I have spent plenty of money on rare books [like out of print copies of books by Frank Stanford, or a charming self-published zine by Marilyn Hacker called Highway Sandwiches] that I wouldn't have been able find cheaply and was interested in reading.) Alas, the answer to this may be to ask, whether discreetly or directly.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Maybe le Ton Beau Dr Marot by Douglas Hofstadter?
posted by crocomancer at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2016

I don't think there is a single such book for poetry, and even Strunk & White is controversial for non-poets.

What I have for you instead, though, is Stoneworks Editions, the etsy shop of a person who makes beautiful handmade books. I have her edition of Song of Myself, and it is gorgeous. Does your wife have a favorite poet? Or favorite poets? Is it possible that Rilke, Whitman, Dickinson, Shakespeare, or Wilfred Owen are among them? Would she value a handmade book? There may be something here for you.

Alternately, Stoneworks also offers an edition of Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, which is an acerbically witty version of what you're looking for.

If you get something from the shop, do drop by and update the thread here and mention how your wife liked it. I love my Whitman; it's an absolutely beautiful book worthy of the poetry within.
posted by not that girl at 4:01 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is the way to go, to be honest. There are books on writing poetry, to be sure, even well-regarded ones, but it strikes me as a bit Poetry 101 for some who is years beyond that level. If she had taken her MFA in non-fiction, I think even then something like Strunk & White would not really hit the mark. I don't know about y'all but I got introduced to Strunk & White in high school. Having completed a graduate degree in the subject is light years beyond that.

I think a better lasting give would be to suss out her favorite poem and have it (or a passage from it) turned into a custom wall print.
posted by drlith at 4:49 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with those who are discouraging you from this path. If I were you, I'd sound her out on what she'd really like; what's the point of spending a lot of money on something she'll have to grit her teeth and pretend to love?
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I am a software engineer and something I would love is a first edition of, say, "The Art of Computer Programming" or "The Mythical Man-Month". Even though I have neither an attachment to the content nor do I have any real _use_ for the content (as it's all obsolete or online), I'd still like to have them on my bookshelf. What these books represent, the higher echelon of my craft, is what I feel when I see these books. My mind went right to S&W because I saw it as 'defining the craft' much like the books I mentioned do for my field. However, poetry and software are different animals, surely.

For my wife, I think a hand bound book of one of her favorite authors would be perfect. Not only does it express and represent the higher echelon of her craft, but it also has personal connotations "to-taste", if you will.

She has many favorite poets, among them is Rilke and E.E. Cummings. The former of which can be found among StoneworkEditions items, as 'not that girl' mentioned. She's also a lover of Thoreau although more for his worldview than his writing, IIRC. "The Little Black Book of Literary Faults" is also very appealing to me as a gag gift for her because it downplays her effort and knowledge (e.g. You've completed your masters but I still think you need this book). I may end up getting quite a few things from this store. Just what I was looking for! Thanks!

I'll definitely come back and update this post with what I opted to get her and how she liked them.
posted by TimBridge at 5:34 PM on May 27, 2016

I should have probably mentioned that she is also a teacher of Language Arts. A moot point now, but "for the record", and all.
posted by TimBridge at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2016

Strunk and White is really awful. My favorite prose style handbook is Joseph Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. However, she might light a more technical work such as The New Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms, if she doesn't already have it.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:58 PM on May 28, 2016

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