I own quite a number of books on the topic of writing poetry. Most of these books were intended to be used by adults teaching poetry writing to children. Many are excellent; many helped to provide me with ideas to use with my students. If someone asked me to name the book that had the greatest influence on my teaching of poetry to my students, it would be a book written by the late Myra Cohn Livingston. Myra, an award-winning children’s poet and anthologist, also wrote critical essays and books about writing poetry with children. In addition, Myra taught a master class in poetry at UCLA. Students in that class included many of the best poets writing for children today. (Read my Interview with Janet Wong to find out more about Myra’s master class and the kinds of writing exercises she gave her students.)
Over the years, I came to trust the wise words of Myra Cohn Livingston—for whom poetry was a passion. Her book Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry taught me so much about poetry. It helped me to explore the writing of poetry with my elementary students. Myra wrote the book for children—but I consider it to be one of the most valuable resources that I have used as a writer myself.
POEM-MAKING: WAYS TO BEGIN WRITING POETRY
Written by Myra Cohn Livingston
A Charlotte Zolotow Book/HarperCollins, 1991
In her introduction to Poem-Making, Myra states the following:
This book is about poem-making, how to begin to understand what goes into a poem. We don’t ask the question What does a poem mean? For if the poet has written well, we seem to know inside of ourselves what it means to us. It is better to ask, as John Ciardi has said, How does the poem mean? And the how means writing the feeling in such a special way that our listeners and readers can sense something of what we have encountered, see something they might never have noticed before, or look at something in a fresh way—the way the poet has offered.
What we hope to do is to make the image, the thought, even the sound come alive again. By arranging words, making a sort of music with these words, we create something fascinating and new.
Poem-Making is concise and easy to understand. It could serve as a beginning course for those hoping to learn about the writing of poetry. In the book, Myra talks about the voices of poetry (lyrical, narrative, and dramatic); sound and rhyme; rhythm and metrics; figures of speech; and different forms of poetry, including the haiku, the cinquain, free verse, and the limerick. But Myra doesn’t just explain the elements of poetry and its different forms, she provides examples of poems to elucidate what she is telling us. When she talks about the narrative voice, she includes excerpts from Ogden Nash’s The Adventures of Isabel, Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and Homer’s The Odyssey. When she writes about the cinquain, she includes not only her own original poems—but also cinquains written by the woman who developed the form, Adelaide Crapsey.
In addition to being an excellent poetry-writing resource, Poem-Making is also a fine anthology. The book is no longer in print—but used copies are still available through online booksellers. Poem-Making is a book no writing teacher should be without. I give it my highest recommendation!!!
Read Sylvia Vardell's post Hail Myra Cohn Livingston! to learn more about the author of this book.