Review: The Crafty Poet By Diane Lockward

Most artists worry at one point or another that they will lose their creative spark, that if they are not working actively at their chosen art, they will find themselves alienated from whatever impetus that caused them to create art in the first place.

In The Crafty Poet by Diane Lockward, poet Michelle Biting writes, “I worry I will slip out of the creative zone I’ve worked so hard to tap–ideas will fade, metaphors atrophy–I’ll wake up an exile from my own poetry country” (19). Biting then suggests that the poet who finds herself in this poetic desert try the practice of scratching, to write down snippets on the fly: images, overheard conversations, random thoughts.

Theodore Roethke kept a practice similar to scratching. He would write down disparate lines in his notebook until he had gathered enough of them to create a poem. This practice is what my own writing has turned into lately while teaching four sections of English Composition. I’ve been writing down fleeting images and thoughts while my students do a free-write warm up at the beginning of class.

Scratching is one of many craft tips Diane Lockward has collected in her volume, The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013). As she explains in her introduction, the book grew out of a monthly newsletter she writes through her well-known poetry blog, Blogalicious. Each of the ten chapters revolves around a different aspect of poetic craft: generating material, diction, sound, voice, imagery and figurative language, going deep/adding layers, syntax, line/stanza, revision, and writer’s block/revision.

The craft tips included in each chapter come from highly regarded, nationally known poets. The book includes 27 craft tips followed by a poem, also from accomplished, well-known poets, many of whom are or have been their state’s poet laureate. After the poem comes a writing prompt. Besides the poems by established poets, Lockward has included sample poems written by readers of her monthly newsletter who followed the suggested prompts.

Because there are so many poems by innovative, contemporary poets, The Crafty Poet is more than a portable workshop; it is an anthology of poems written in the kind of fresh, rich, and lively language we writers want to emulate.

Now that I have a break from a semester of teaching English Composition I, I have my eye on several of the prompts in this book. I’m thinking of starting with Kim Addonizio’s “Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton.” Lockward explains, “a sonnenizio is a form invented by Kim Addonizio. As it’s name suggests, its form is a spin-off of the sonnet” (61).

Now the fun begins–to look for a line from a sonnet to jumpstart my poem. I intend to spend my winter break mining the many craft tips in The Crafty Poet. With Lockward’s guidebook by my side, there’s no way I’ll find myself “in exile from my own poetry country.”

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