Have you ever had the desire to set aside your book and just try to write something? That was how I felt all day today. I finished A Poetry Handbook (I can’t remember if that was today or yesterday), and I just wanted to sit in my library and try my hand at a few poems. So, that’s what I did after supper tonight.

And it really feels good.

I’m not ready to share my poetry yet – I need a lot of practice – but what I do want to share is a few of the tips that Mary Oliver offered in the Handbook. Maybe you will take a few and try to write something for yourself.

  • If you want to write poetry, you need to read poetry. A lot and intensely.
  • Gain practice by imitation. She uses the illustration of a young artist imitating a Van Gogh in a museum. We don’t think ill of the artist trying to learn in this fashion. Imitation is one of the ways to learn and develop different styles and techniques. Just don’t get so caught up in imitating one poet that you ignore the many others that are out there.
  • Learn some of the technical aspects of poetry. Study terms. For example, become familiar with the meters: iambic, pentameter, tetrameter, couplet, enjambment, etc.
  • Listen to your language. There is a chapter that breaks the alphabet down into sounds. Of course beginning with consonant and vowel, but then there are more: mutes, aspirates, semivowels, etc. She uses a poem by Robert Frost to demonstrate how sounds can change the feeling of a poem. She also uses the words rock and stone to demonstrate this concept. The words might mean the same thing, but what mental picture do you get when you say Rock? And when you say Stone?
  • Write, revise, and then revise again. Do not be afraid or ashamed of your early work. Revise until you love it. Revise as the author, and then, step back and try to revise as an unbiased party. It is an exercise that takes practice.

These are some of my main “take-aways” from the Handbook, some of the big things that really stuck out to me. I decided as soon as I finished it that I needed to reread it, so I turned back to page one and began again.

I know A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver isn’t the only poetry-writing aid out there, and I’m sure if I stick with it, I’ll find plenty more books with tips and pointers and technicals. But I really love Oliver’s style, and if I were to imitate anyone, it would be her. She has a unique sweetness to her style. She loves nature, even the parts that can be painful, and she always manages to find some good or some beauty in the world around her. Then, she draws the reader into her world through her poem, so that they can commune together in their mutual love for nature.

So, I’m going back to try my hand at another poem. I hope one day I can be even half as good as Mary Oliver. And if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.