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Writing the Life Poetic

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October 2009
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An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry

Publishing Information

  • Author: Sage Cohen
  • Publisher: Writers Digest
  • Copyright: 2009
  • Page Count: 262 pages
  • Price: $22.95 (CN)

Sage Cohen writes in “Writing the Life Poetic” that you don’t need to have an advanced degree to understand or write poetry. Her book is an inspirational companion for anyone who is interested in poetry. Its purpose is to provide you with what is needed to “write, read, and appreciate poetry in a new way—whatever way pleases and inspires you.”

Summary

The Life poetic consists of 80 short chapters. Each chapter covers some important aspect of poetry. For instance, there are chapters on the following:

  • What makes a poem a poem?
  • Showing versus telling
  • Living the poetic life
  • Reading the poetry you love
  • Freewriting
  • Point of view
  • Imagery
  • Figurative language, such as the simile and metaphor

Cohen uses several devices to explain each topic. She begins each chapter with a brief explanation of the topic, often including an inspirational quote, an occasional poem, anecdotes, and advice. Then she provides the reader with questions to answer or exercises to complete.

As an example: In chapter 2, “What makes a Poem a Poem?” Cohen answers the question, suggesting that a poem is a compression of words. Each word must count. A poem uses imagery to make its point. A poem has music or rhythm and sound. And a poem is composed of lines and stanzas.

In her chapter on “Showing versus Telling,” she writes that the golden rule of poetry is to show, don’t tell. In other words, use concrete and specific images to describe the world in which you live. Avoid declarative statements and clichés.

In the chapter “Living the Life Poetic”, Cohen suggests that the aspiring poet needs to “tune into the marvels of the mundane” and “savour mystery instead of uncertainty.” The aspiring poet should also observe the world in which we live, and understand what we do when we are living in “autopilot.”

Some of her exercises include keeping a metaphor log, where you describe the world using figurative images, creating a found poem using email, learn poetry by imitation, reading to discover new ideas, and using repetition to create a poem.

She gives sound advice in her chapter on “Read the Poetry you Love.” She writes that the reader should “read poetry to be informed, moved, transformed, and inspired”, and that “writing poetry flow out of reading poetry.”

Her advice is often illuminating. For instance, in her chapter “The Starving Artist Has Left the Building” she states that the reader ought not to expect to make a living writing poetry. Instead, the poet should keep his or her day job, and use leisure time to write poetry. The “day job” cannot take the poetry away from you.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The book is well-written and entertaining. Furthermore, it contains lots of information about most topics on poetry. The author provides useful advice about reading poetry, writing poetry, and living the poetic life. The poems and anecdotes make their point. Her inspire the reader think. The exercises are challenging and helpful. And the author provides the reader with a companion website to learn more about poetry.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t include a glossary of terms, a tool that would be useful to the aspiring poet. As well,some of the topics could have been covered in greater detail, such as the chapters on rhyme, sound, and living the life poetic.

Audience

This book is written for anyone who wants to learn how to read or write poetry, or who wants to expand their knowledge of poetry or skill in writing poetry. 

About the Author

Sage Cohen is the author of the poetry collection, “Like the Heart.” Her poems and essays have appeared in a plethora of publications. In 2008, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2008, she won the Ghost Road Press poetry contest. Presently, she teaches an e-course in poetry and writes a monthly column about the life poetic for Writers on the Rise. She also edits this publication. She is also a speaker at writing festivals and writing conferences.

For more information about this author, visit www.writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com .

Assessment

This book would a useful companion for a student enrolled in a course in poetry where the textbook is the primary resource. This book would also be beneficial for a person who has a good understanding of the basic elements of poetry but would like some inspiration on how to read and write poetry, or live the life poetic.

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2 Comments

  1. Sage Cohen says:

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks so much for sharing such a thorough overview of Writing the Life Poetic! I hope it proves good company for your creative journey!

    A glossary — great idea.

    Yours in poetry,
    Sage

  2. ed lucas says:

    i just discovered your style of writing and it’s great! please keep me updated on your future publications.
    thank you

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