What is PoetryChildren’s books are often the best way for me to learn about a new subject. When I was in college and had to do a paper on an event or person I knew nothing about, I would go to the library and check out books for children on the topic. Those books gave me the most significant parts of the subject’s story, providing a timeline and basic outline. Then I could dive into adult books with a good idea of what was most important to my research and what was unnecessary detail.

The same goes for this wonderful book on writing poetry. In What Is Poetry?: the Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems, author Michael Rosen explains the basics of poetry for tweens. As an amateur poet, I found his instruction and examples extremely helpful. Many of the techniques he writes about are ones that any poet of any age are still working to improve upon.

Mr. Rosen doesn’t choose only poetry aimed at children to illustrate his instruction. He uses works by Percy Shelley, Thomas Hardy, Robert Browning, and two passages from Shakespeare. I especially like that he included the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” passage from Macbeth. I’m not a fan of Shakespeare, but even has a high school senior suffering through the dissection of this play, I could appreciate the bone-weary cynicism in this speech.

The chapters are short but crammed with information with titles like “What Can You Do With a Poem?”, “Ways to Start a Poem”. and “Some Technical Point About Poems”. In that last chapter, the author defines many kinds of figurative language, a particular love of mine. Not only are simile and metaphor covered, but also persona and metonymy. I’d come across metonymy before but had no idea what it was. Thank you for the definition and clarification, Mr. Rosen.

He lists great prompts for sparking a poem, such as daydream, pretend your are somebody else, and pick a moment, which is what I try to capture in my poetry.

One section I found very helpful was when Mr. Rosen reprints “Snow in the Suburbs” by Thomas Hardy and then shows how to mark it so you can study it. He circles alliterative sounds, draws arrows to similar images, highlights repeated words, and links rhyming words. Now when I find a poem or even a prose passage that lifts my heart or fires my imagination, I have a way to dig deep into it and figure out why.

What books have you found helpful for writing poetry?