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By Mary Oliver

With ardour, wit, and reliable logic, the prestigious poet Mary Oliver tells of the fundamental methods a poem is built-meter and rhyme, shape and diction, sound and feel. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts a unprecedented quantity of knowledge in a remarkably brief area. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). Index.

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In the writing of the poem, nothing, if it is done well and works to the desired effect, is wrong. This is true concerning all matters of technique, and it is true also concerning diction and tone and voice. We have momentous examples from poems themselves, and the good guidance of fine writers, and our own common good sense. We can know a lot. And still, no doubt, there are rash and wonderful ideas brewing somewhere; there are many surprises yet to come. IMAGERY Imagery is the language of particulars.

That, I think, is the long and the short of it. Speech entered the poem. The poem was no longer a lecture, it was time spent with a friend. Its music was the music of conversation. Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855, wrote almost all of his work in long, unscannable, usually end-stopped lines,* and he is frequently cited as the first American poet to write in free verse. It is like calling a mountain a hill. It isn't wrong. But it tells us nothing useful or interesting.

This kind of writing points to one thing only—a bad habit that has not yet been discovered. One of the real values of the workshop is the possibility that someone will notice one's lackluster, monotonous, and persistent habits, and point them out. If you do not think this is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, or beg someone to do for you, think again. The Simple or the Complicated From time to time I have heard students complain that the advice of their elders is always the same—that they should write simply, freshly, and clearly—while at the same time many of the poems used as models are highly organized, complicated, and difficult.

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