7 Books to Inspire the Writing of Poetry

After discussing writing prompts and exercises with a friend the other day, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the books I’ve used over the years. With any of these, you have to jump in and try the exercises, even if they don’t necessarily appeal to you. Not everything will work out, but you might find some surprises. And if nothing else, you continue to prime your creativity for “the real thing.”


The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron – A 12-week course to get you more in touch with your own creativity, whether it’s writing poetry, painting, or something else. You can sometimes find facilitated classes based on this book; I’ve not taken one, but from people who have, I understand it is quite a meaningful and enlightening group experience. I found the book itself to be revelatory for me.

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron – Short chapters with exercises that are not necessarily designed to give you a prompt, but to help you tap into ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that may lead to something. Great book if you want to write but need some encouragement.

The Practice of Poetry: Writing exercises from poets who teach edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell – Exercises from well-known writers such as Rita Dove and Stephen Dunn (as well as poets I’ve never heard of) with some insight about why they use these exercises in their teaching. This is one of my favorites.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Reflections on poetry along with suggestions for practice.

Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse by Mary Oliver – An excellent guide to understanding the formality of poetry: feet, scansion, iambs—it’s all there for the learning.

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio – Examples of poetry, what makes it work, ways to think about it, and suggestions for practice.

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit – I’m in the middle of this book right now. The author provides detailed analysis of sample poems and why they work or don’t, in some cases going through iterations to show how a poem can be improved. Quite a lot of ideas to generate your own poems.


What other books do you suggest to inspire the writing of poetry?

18 thoughts on “7 Books to Inspire the Writing of Poetry

  1. Not a do-it-yourself exercise book, but a mini-novel by Dylan Thomas , Adventures in the Skin Trade … Which although only 80 or so pages, took me ages to read because of the wealth of writing in every little sentence… Inspirational in its use of language, and a bit like the Bible or Ulysses you can dip in and read it from any page.


  2. Clement Wood’s old rhyming-dictionary introduction.
    The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell.
    any poet who simply shows you what a poem can be, making you want to do that too! — Margaret Atwood, Richard Wilbur, Rumi, & more others than I care to list. A few manage this frequently; many people get up there now & then.


  3. I am a big fan of The Practice of Poetry, which helped me out of a long block and got me engaged with forms again after years away. I’d also recommend WIngbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry (Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, eds.). I found fewer of the exercises generated poems, but the ones that did were very good, and could be returned to more than once.


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