Review by Lara Lillibridge
Diane Lockward is the editor of three other craft books and four books of poetry. Winner of the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey Council of the Arts and a Woman of Achievement Award, she is the founder and publisher of Terrapin Books, a small press dedicated to poetry. With 114 contributing poets, The Strategic Poet is the equivalent of attending a week-long writing conference in book form.
The book is divided into thirteen sections, and begins with a craft essay by award-winning poets, including Ellen Bass, Danusha Laméri, David Graham, and Peter Murphy. Each section then offers a poem and prompt focusing on a craft element, followed by commentary by the writer who penned it. For further clarification, example poems by established poets follow each prompt, really giving the book the scope of a writing workshop. Bonus prompts are included at the end of each section for the reader to continue to practice the craft element on their own. Although the chapters are written by different poets, they flow together seamlessly.
This approach works very well for the beginning poet such as myself, but the range of the craft topics also offers something of value to more established writers. Topics include diction, imagery, diction, apostrophe (which I had to google, being a newbie), syntax, repetition, and odd forms.
“As writers, we often return to the same few subjects. I don’t see a problem with that. The issue is how to write about those things in new ways.” Lauren Camp in “Craft Talk: Four Hills and a Cloud” (53). As an essayist, this is the appeal of poetry to me—the ability to explore my obsessions in novel ways, and I much admire poets for their distillation of thought and beauty of language.
Ellen Bass wrote,
If I could give just one suggestion to beginning and developing writers, it would be to slow down. If you don’t rush through what you see or what you want to convey, you have a better shot at delivering a real and vivid experience to the reader. (5)
The format of The Strategic Poet encouraged that lingering—the multiple voices and examples allowed me to always be able to find my way in to a new concept, and the bonus prompts invited repetition of the craft element to deepen my understanding.
The prompts are very definitive, such as this one given to us by Lauren Camp:
In looking at a draft you’ve written, circle or underline the phrases that seem ordinary. You know the ones—the ready-made descriptions you didn’t even have to think about. That’s your task, right there, finding a way to get those images to swerve into something even you didn’t expect. (54)
The specificity allowed me a simple guide to not only compose but also revise a poem. If you are going to read just one craft book on poetry, The Strategic Poet is the most thorough and easiest to follow that I’ve read.
Reviews of other poetry craft books edited by Diane Lockward:
Lara Lillibridge is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama (Skyhorse, 2019), Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home (Skyhorse, 2018) and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cynren Press, 2019). Lillibridge is the Interviews Editor at Hippocampus Magazine and a mentor with AWP’s Writer to Writer program.