The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice For Beginning Poets, by Ted Kooser
This particular book was written by poet laureate Ted Kooser for beginning poets, and as someone who has been writing poems for at least a couple of decades I am by no means a beginning poet. All the same, the advice given is worthwhile and the book includes a great deal of very worthwhile poetry and so this is a book that I can celebrate and that I think is worthy of at least being remembered by those who are more seasoned or experienced writer. Sometimes advice given to beginners by someone who has reached the pinnacle of his field can be useful to those who have written a lot but who may not have remembered the sort of lessons that this book helpfully gives, especially when it comes to being an appreciative audience for the poetry of others, even if some of us (myself included) tend to be rather critical about what we read. This book is full of criticism, but manages to deliver it gently and graciously and even encouragingly, all of which is something that ought to be appreciated by the book’s novice poet readers.
This particular book is a short one at just over 150 pages, and it is divided into twelve chapters. The book begins with acknowledgements and some notes about the book. After that the author talks about a poet’s job description (1) and the healthy reminder that poets do not tend to make a lot of money as poets, followed by a discussion of what it means to write for others (2) and not only oneself. After that the author discusses first impressions of poetry (3) and gives advice to poets not to worry about rules (4) as well as some comments about rhymes as well as prose poetry (5). The poet spends some time discussing writing about feelings (6) as well as the importance of being able to read a poem through one’s poem (7). Then the poet discusses writing from memory (8) and working with detail (9) as well as controlling the effects of one’s writing through careful choices (10) made in writing. After this comes a discussion on how a writer can fine-tune metaphors and similes to maximize he impact of one’s writings (11) as well as the importance of relaxing and waiting (12), after which the book ends with some source references and some more acknowledgements, because apparently the author likes to acknowledge a great deal.
What does this book do for beginning poets (and other readers)? Well, the author sets the expectations of poetry properly, pointing out the importance of having poetic diction and understanding something of the differences between poetry and prose and the flexibility that poets have in seeking to convey their thoughts and feelings in various poetic forms. The author sets expectations as well in terms of reminding the poet that few people read poetry and that poets do not tend to make money unless they are literature teachers rather than simply poets, so that no one goes into poetry expecting it to be particularly profitable in an economic sense. Also, and perhaps most importantly, this book provides the reader with some examples of very good poetry from the author’s own body of work as well as other poems that the author appreciates, and these poems can serve as an inspiration to new poets and as examples of the success that good poetry can bring in terms of receiving the respect and honor of other poets. Such actions are likely to encourage goodwill on the part of the reader for good poetry and hopefully inspire a great many more people to hone and improve their poetic voice.