The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics
ed. Diane Lockward
Terrapin Books
350 pages.

Here’s a handbook that’s really a handbook! First, there are real “craft tips.” Then, poets who exemplify these with poems. Here are the sections. One: Discovering New Material; Two: Finding the Best Words; Three: Making Music; Four: Working with Sentences and Line Breaks; Five: Crafting Surprise — then six, seven, eight, nine, and 10, each with subsections with writer’s tips and examples by noted poets.

Editor Lockward is invincible. This book is the third in a series of teaching writing, and, it proclaims, “pushing poets beyond the basics.” If you’re lonely, just read the sample poems by some of our hottest writers today. If you have a bit of energy, try a prompt. No one’s watching, and you may wind up writing beyond your boundaries.

This is practical, not ethereal, wisdom, and, therefore, one of the best books of tools out there. And, of course, with wonderful, delicious poems — otherwise, what’s it all about, anyway?

Bonus Prompt: The Chant Poem

Begin your first line with I believe. Complete the thought, then

keep going. Begin each new line with the same phrase. Keep

going for 15-20 lines. Write rapidly.

Go back and either delete 2-3 I believe phrases (keep the rest

of each line), or insert 2-3 new lines that do not use I believe.

Keep in mind that pattern is good, but too much pattern becomes

predictable and tiresome. It encourages the reader to skim

read. Set up your pattern, then break it. Joe Brainard does this

in his famous poetic memoir, I Remember. Again and again he

begins a sentence with I remember, but just when we expect

another repetition, he surprises us, e.g., I remember the only
time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.

first sentence pursues the pattern of repetition; the second

sentence breaks the pattern.

Read your poem aloud and notice the musical effect of the


Other starter phrases for another day:

I want

Because I could not

I wish

Forgive me if

I remember

He broke



Monthly Poetry Reviews

by Grace Cavalieri