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Poetry Book Review:

The Poet's Companion

by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

the poets companionKim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux have written an extraordinary book on writing poetry. A great read for beginning poets as well as seasoned veterans. But it isn't perfect.

In truth, The Poet's Companion: A Guide To The Pleasures Of Writing Poetry got off to a rocky start. The first chapter is a bit too simplified. Titled "Writing and Knowing", the authors start with that old advice, "write what you know." It seems obvious, but the problem I have with this very simple advice is that most people know themselves all too well and with Laux' and Addinizio's advice, they'll simply write too many "I" poems in a poetic sea already oversupplied with self-centered aspiring poets. And that's precisely what they blatantly advocate. I was hoping for something with a little more depth and little bit different than the average workshop advice.

But after that first chapter, The Poet's Companion gets considerably better. In fact, each chapter gets better than the previous for most of the way through the book and the author's do manage to offer quite a bit of depth throughout the rest of the book.

Beyond that first chapter there really isn't a lot of bad to say about The Poet's Companion. Nevertheless, here's a short list of issues that I have with their advice, and I think you'll find much of this is picking at the nits:

  1. In chapter 13, the poet's comment that rhyme should never be obvious. Well, I don't think poets should never say never. Sometimes, you might want to be obvious. But this is a minor disagreement considering that Laux and Addonizio go to great pains to explain the difference between free verse and traditional forms and between the various types of rhyme so their advice is somewhat sound.
  2. In the same chapter the poets are discussing a poem by Molly Peacock and mention that one of the lines has eight beats. Funny, I counted 11 syllables within five feet. I'm not sure how they were counting it, but eight beats didn't make it into my head.
  3. I found the chapter titled "Repetition, Rhythm, and Blues" somewhat disappointing. The title is too cute. The authors don't have cute titles anywhere else in the book and they could have discussed repetition and rhythm without the blues.
  4. In the following chapter, when the authors discuss the Sestina, Villanelle, and Pantoum forms, they don't offer any writing exercises, but they do following every other chapter. I'd have liked at least three exercises, one for each form.
  5. My biggest disappointment with the book is in the chapter on grammar. I give Laux and Addonizio credit for attempting to discuss grammar in a book on poetry because it is rarely done. But I was quite set off by the fact that most of the chapter deals with appositives and verbals. I am completely at odds with encouraging beginning poets to make a concerted effort to writing poetry by consciously adding appositives to their verse. Better advice, I think it is, to encourage poets to remove what is not necessary than to add details that may not be necessary.
I found a few other niggling details that aren't worth mentioning, little discrepancies that got in the way, but all in all The Poet's Companion: A Guide To The Pleasures Of Writing Poetry is an excellent book. The chapter on writing in the electronic age is a bit outdated (the book was published in 1997), but most of the book is up to date and accurate enough for writers at any level to receive some benefit.

One thing that does unnerve me about Laux's and Addonizio's co-authorship is that the authors seem to speak with one voice throughout. It doesn't seem right that two poets would agree on everything the way they seem to. I would rather have seen them tackle the subjects with separate voices, highlighting where they agree and where they might have a difference of opinion. Poetry is too subjective an art form for any two poets to agree on every matter as precisely as that. Nevertheless, I don't mind recommending The Poet's Companion: A Guide To The Pleasures Of Writing Poetry for novices or skilled poets.

Order your copy of

The Poet's Companion
by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux


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