sharing my love of books with you

Tag: Mary Oliver (Page 1 of 2)


Here is a fun word to say. I have heard the words many times before, but now that I am starting to write more, especially since I want to branch into poetry, I looked the word up so I could be sure I knew exactly what it meant. And how to pronounce it. Mary Oliver writes about diphthongs in A Poetry Handbook.

Diphthong – (pronounced dif-thong) an unsegmentable, gliding speech sound varying continuously in phonetic quality but considered to be a single sound or phoneme, as the oi sound of toy or boil.

Usage: “The initial four lines are rife with w‘s and th‘s; f is there, and v. Three sets of double ll‘s. The heaviness of the vowels is increased by the use of diphthongs. The two words that end with a mute (think and up) are set within the lines and thus are softened. All other mutes are softened within the words themselves. One could scarcely read these lines in any other than a quiet, musing, almost whispered way.”

Mary Oliver is speaking of the first stanza of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

October has been a Blur

My dear readers, thank you for your patience with my lack of updates and posts this October. My family had an unexpected emergency, and though I was still able to read in quiet moments, I had very little time to write on this blog. I am hoping November offers me a little more time for my books and for telling you about them.

What is coming up?

  • I finished Five Children and It, so I will be posting a summary of that book soon. It was a short book, an easy read, and I think you will enjoy learning the lesson the five children did.
  • I started reading a poetry book by Rumi, a twelfth century Islamic monk. Mary Oliver highly recommends the writings of Rumi, and I was glad to find a lovely copy at Barnes and Noble this month. Even though I have posted a few of his poems, I still want to do a From My Library post because the book itself is as lovely as its contents.
  • I still have a few Sherlock Homes words and quotes to share with you, even though I finished Holmes a month ago.
  • I am still reading through Herlock Sholmes, though I have slowed down this month since I finished Sherlock Holmes. Expect more quotes and adventures with Sholmes and Jotson.
  • I finished reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, but then I decided as an amateur poet, I needed to immediately reread the book and begin practicing some of her lessons. I plan to give you all a few of her poetry writing tips. Most importantly, Oliver states that a writer of poetry must be an avid reader of poetry.

Wow, that feels like a lot to accomplish in the next few weeks. It does feel good to list it all out for you and for me so that I have a goal to write toward. I promise, I will do my best to make it a fun and exciting ride. Because reading is amazing!


Here is a word that I am going to have to become more familiar with if I am going to be a writer, especially if I intend to be a poet. It is vital that poets learn their language. Not just words and definitions, but the sounds, tones, and feelings that certain words express. Syntax is just a part of that.

Syntax – the arrangement of words into sentences and phrases

Usage: “Proper syntax never hurt anyone. Correct grammar and forceful, graceful syntax give the poem a vigor that it has to have.” (Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook, 1994)

Poems Are

“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook, 1994

I Just Wanted to Write Today

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.


I think this is a word that I knew the meaning of (somewhere in the back of my mind), but I struggled to grasp. I wanted to add it to the blog and look it up so I could concrete the word in my vocabulary. I found it in A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver.

Ambivalence – uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite things

Usage: “Frost kept no jottings about sound while he wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. He did not need to. He was a master poet. The poem is an extraordinary statement of human ambivalence and resolution. Genius wrote it.”

A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver

I just started this new book by Mary Oliver called A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry. Oliver was a world renowned poet, with works like “The Summer Day”, “Wild Geese”, and “The Swan”. I’ve shared a few of her poems here, and will continue to do so as I read them.

I would like to write, someday, like Mary Oliver did. That’s why I got this little Handbook. In her own sweet and simple way, Oliver relays to both amateur poets and readers of poetry tips on how to read, understand, and write poems. What makes a poem? What elements are important in a poem? She doesn’t write like this is a textbook. Rather, it is more of a conversation, maybe even a lecture she might have given to her students. She offers technical terms, but uses examples so that anyone can understand what she is saying. For Oliver, poetry is a way to communicate emotions and feelings of the heart. She wants her readers to be able to communicate their own emotions, feelings, and experiences in their own poems. She is an encourager, not just a teacher.

“A poet’s interest in craft never fades, of course. This book is not meant to be more than a beginning – but it is meant to be a good beginning… It is written to empower the beginning writer who stands between two marvelous and complex things – an experience (or an idea or a feeling), and the urge to tell about it in the best possible conjunction of words.”

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook, 1994

I wish I could have taken writing classes from Mary Oliver. I feel like I would have learned so much. Maybe I would have started writing publicly when I was much younger. Anyway, the past cannot be undone, but the future has yet to unfold. I plan on reading and rereading this book while I practice Oliver’s teachings. Maybe one day, I can be a poet too.

From My Library: A Poetry Handbook

Here is a simple little paperback that packs a great punch for any poet, student, or teacher… Really, it’s for anyone who likes poetry (even just a little). The subtitle of A Poetry Handbook says, “A prose guide to understanding and writing poetry.” I bought my copy from Barnes and Noble. It’s a very small book, only 130 pages, including the index and permissions granted sections. It is easy to read with great tips for writing and reading poetry. I am really glad I picked it up.

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