Can Books on Poetic Craft Turn you into a Poet?

A couple of days back, I fell into conversation with a jazz musician. We talked about jazz, his teaching of music and the jazz performance I had recently attended at my local pub. On me mentioning that I am a poet, my companion said that he had recently been given a copy of Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within,, and that he had just started to compose poetry.

I have not read Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled”, consequently I’m unable to comment on the book. I did, however say to my companion that whilst books on poetic craft may, in some instances, be helpful, its crucial to read as much poetry (of all kinds) as possible to enable the development of one’s own unique style. Such reading will bring one into contact with poetry which is not to your taste, however this is, nonetheless useful in honing the poets ability to compose verse.

I am not dismissing works on poetic craft. Indeed I have on my shelves “The Poet’s Voice and Craft”, which consists of a series of lectures by famous poets explaining how they go about writing poetry, and other aspects of poetic craft, ( Whilst I’d have no hesitation in recommending this book, in my opinion reading Keats, Housman, Blake, Larkin, Auden and a myriad other poets will prove of more benefit than pouring over numerous tomes on poetic craft.

Of course there is a danger that by reading other poets, we come to replicate them. One must always be wary of falling into the trap of (either consciously or unconsciously) trying to outWordsworth Wordsworth, or outBlake Blake, but by reading other poets and absorbing the poetic tradition, one learns, over time to develop one’s own unique voice.

I have been told that a number of my poems remind readers of Emily Dickinson, Larkin and a number of other poets. I have never (consciously) attempted to write in the style of any poet, but take such comments as compliments. We build on the poetic tradition. We can, of course augment it but, ultimately we are all part of the great cultural heritage that has gone before.

As ever, your comments are most welcome.


11 thoughts on “Can Books on Poetic Craft Turn you into a Poet?

  1. blindzanygirl

    I don’t know whether reading books on poetry can turn you into a poet, as I tend to think the inclination and the gift has to be there to begin with. But I may be wrong. I stand to be corrected. I think that if the gift is already there, reading such books can help, as can reading other poets. I wrote piems as a smal child. But my interest really peaked when I read Wilfred Owen in Grammar School. It hit me like a brik, and I still long to write like him, though I don’t really try to. I don’t personally base myself on any particular poets, so hope that I am myself as much as possible.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      I agree with you that the gift/inclination needs to be there in the first place, Lorraine. I, as with you, admire certain poets. Amongst my favourites are Housman, Larkin, Dowson and Dickinson. However, I like you, don’t consciously attempt to emulate any of the poets I admire. Thanks for commenting, Best, Kevin

  2. Devon Brock

    I couldn’t agree with more, Kevin. Reading as much poetry as possible not only helps in determining you own taste, I also presents you with a variety of voices and styles that may be utilized, not in terms of emulation mind you, but in terms of finding the proper narrative voice and form for the message a poem is attempting to convey.


    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Devon. You are right about the importance of seeing different voices and styles, not so that we can emulate them but, rather so we can learn from others. Best wishes, Kevin

  3. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    I’m inclined to agree with you. With any form of writing – be it poetry, stories, or whatever – reading widely in the style and genre you hope to write in yourself is the best teacher. It can’t hurt to read the writing guides. In fact, it will help somewhat to learn the “rules” (even if you later break them). But reading a variety of different authors, and then finding your own voice, is always the most important thing to do if you wish to be an author, regardless of whether it’s poetry or any other form of writing.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comment, Tori. You make an important about gaining an understanding of “the rules”, even if you later “break them”. Best wishes, Kevin

  4. V.M.Sang

    You absolutely need to know the rules, if only to break them–knowingly, and not through ignorance. But reading is essential if anyone is to make a good writer, whatever form they write in.

  5. K Morris Poet Post author

    Reblogged this on K Morris – Poet and commented:

    At the time this post was penned, I had not read Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet within”. I have since done so and can recommend the book. However, my view remains as stated in my post back in January, namely that while books on poetic craft can be helpful, there is no substitute for reading lots of poetry. It is only by so doing that one gains an understanding of the poetic tradition and hone’s one’s own craft.


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