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The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems

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The bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun brings poetry out of the classroom and into the homes of everyday readers. Before she fell in love with Tuscany, Frances Mayes fell in love with verse. After publishing five books of poetry and teaching creative writing for more than twenty-five years, Mayes is no stranger to the subject. In The Discovery of Poetry, an accessib The bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun brings poetry out of the classroom and into the homes of everyday readers. Before she fell in love with Tuscany, Frances Mayes fell in love with verse. After publishing five books of poetry and teaching creative writing for more than twenty-five years, Mayes is no stranger to the subject. In The Discovery of Poetry, an accessible "field guide" to reading and writing poetry, she shares her passion with readers. Beginning with basic terminology and techniques, from texture and sound to rhyme and repetition, Mayes shows how focusing on one aspect of a poem can help you to better understand, appreciate, and enjoy the reading and writing experience. In addition to many creative and helpful composition ideas, following each lyrical and lively discussion is a thoughtful selection of poems. With its wonderful anthology from Shakespeare to Jamaica Kinkaid, The Discovery of Poetry is an insightful, invaluable guide to what Mayes calls "the natural pleasures of language-a happiness we were born to have."


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The bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun brings poetry out of the classroom and into the homes of everyday readers. Before she fell in love with Tuscany, Frances Mayes fell in love with verse. After publishing five books of poetry and teaching creative writing for more than twenty-five years, Mayes is no stranger to the subject. In The Discovery of Poetry, an accessib The bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun brings poetry out of the classroom and into the homes of everyday readers. Before she fell in love with Tuscany, Frances Mayes fell in love with verse. After publishing five books of poetry and teaching creative writing for more than twenty-five years, Mayes is no stranger to the subject. In The Discovery of Poetry, an accessible "field guide" to reading and writing poetry, she shares her passion with readers. Beginning with basic terminology and techniques, from texture and sound to rhyme and repetition, Mayes shows how focusing on one aspect of a poem can help you to better understand, appreciate, and enjoy the reading and writing experience. In addition to many creative and helpful composition ideas, following each lyrical and lively discussion is a thoughtful selection of poems. With its wonderful anthology from Shakespeare to Jamaica Kinkaid, The Discovery of Poetry is an insightful, invaluable guide to what Mayes calls "the natural pleasures of language-a happiness we were born to have."

30 review for The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS BOOK!! It's like a poetry course in your hand!!! I highly recommend it! I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS BOOK!! It's like a poetry course in your hand!!! I highly recommend it!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    An overview and introduction by a poet and teacher who went on to fame and fortune when she wrote a memoir about her life in Tuscany. I studied the first edition of this book, originally published in the 1980’s, years before anyone had heard of Frances Mayes. I maintain that her writing success is built on her in-depth knowledge of the workings of poetry. The pattern of writing/studying poetry before becoming famous in another genre is fairly common (C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Vladimir Nabokov and An overview and introduction by a poet and teacher who went on to fame and fortune when she wrote a memoir about her life in Tuscany. I studied the first edition of this book, originally published in the 1980’s, years before anyone had heard of Frances Mayes. I maintain that her writing success is built on her in-depth knowledge of the workings of poetry. The pattern of writing/studying poetry before becoming famous in another genre is fairly common (C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Vladimir Nabokov and countless others have gone down this road) which supports the idea that aspiring writers should appreciate, or at least understand the art and craft of making a poem.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This was the textbook for the workshop I'm taking at the New School. It was hard to keep a straight face while reading a "field guide to poetry" by the lady who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun. But as loopy as the text got, the example poems were a decent mix of old and new that was pleasant to revisit. A decent shelf reference, but not that much fun to read cover-to-cover. This was the textbook for the workshop I'm taking at the New School. It was hard to keep a straight face while reading a "field guide to poetry" by the lady who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun. But as loopy as the text got, the example poems were a decent mix of old and new that was pleasant to revisit. A decent shelf reference, but not that much fun to read cover-to-cover.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Catherine L.

    Yes, it's sometimes difficult, she's erudite, and forces you to think hard, but oh, what fun when a poem connects and sings in your head, when you get goosebumps from a gorgeous phrase, when you laugh out loud at a cleverness. Everyone should have a copy. Yes, it's sometimes difficult, she's erudite, and forces you to think hard, but oh, what fun when a poem connects and sings in your head, when you get goosebumps from a gorgeous phrase, when you laugh out loud at a cleverness. Everyone should have a copy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Fasching-Gray

    I read a page or two of this a day off and on for a couple years and I can tell that I get a lot more out of poetry now then I did when I started. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to read this for a course, a prescribed number of pages a week, and to actually do all the suggested exercises and participate in discussions about the poems; I suspect that would be very intense. Somewhere in the middle, though, I got to thinking that I would like to do that some day, take an actual cours I read a page or two of this a day off and on for a couple years and I can tell that I get a lot more out of poetry now then I did when I started. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to read this for a course, a prescribed number of pages a week, and to actually do all the suggested exercises and participate in discussions about the poems; I suspect that would be very intense. Somewhere in the middle, though, I got to thinking that I would like to do that some day, take an actual course in poetry. I don't think there is any better recommendation for an introductory textbook than that it inspires me to want to learn more. I saw that some, mainly English majors, who reviewed the book thought that the poems selected were kind of lame, or cliche or something. The first page of the table of contents lists dusty oldies like Frost "Road Not Taken" (groan) and Gwendolyn Brooks "We Real Cool" (hooray) but I enjoyed coming across poems I already knew about and reading them again with the new tools the book gave me. Anyway, there is a reason certain poems are in all the anthologies. Obviously, a book you choose to read has the advantage over one the teacher assigns even if you would have liked to read it anyway. Somehow a course on poetry, with deadlines and grades, seems counter to what we think poetry is about, at least since the Romantics. I also liked the way the poems were organized, for example Chapter 2 "Words" which opened with "Jabberwocky," a poem I memorized as a kid, Chapter 3 "Images," and later chapters that look at more specific poetic elements like use of rhyme, meter, specific forms, etc. instead of just going chronologically like another introductory book I have largely ignored because it starts with incomprehensible Old English gibberish. If you like some poems and want to like them even more and find more poems to like, this is the book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Lorenz

    This would be a stellar book for an intro to poetry class, for the novice who doesn't know much about poetry but wants to learn. There are definitely parts of this book that shine: her discussion of language and the use of words to texturize, or surprise, her advice about interpretation, and the exercises that are scattered throughout the book and gathered together at the end for writing poetry. I found much of the poetry included to be old and overused. As an English major and someone who just This would be a stellar book for an intro to poetry class, for the novice who doesn't know much about poetry but wants to learn. There are definitely parts of this book that shine: her discussion of language and the use of words to texturize, or surprise, her advice about interpretation, and the exercises that are scattered throughout the book and gathered together at the end for writing poetry. I found much of the poetry included to be old and overused. As an English major and someone who just likes poetry, I wanted more concrete and contemporary pieces. I was familiar with many of the classic poems from other courses and wasn't super engaged with much of the abstract, philosophical poems. I did take stuff away from this though and think that even an experienced teacher or writer could get something out of it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    The best advice I can think of for anyone who wants to be intellectually enthusiastic and enjoy surpries in life is: make an attempt to visit all used book sales you can, and then someday read the books that you purchase there. This is one of those "Oh, I'll get to it one day" buys that does much to stabilize my faith in the 'read whatever interests you' approach to education. This is a sprawling but focused text which does a great job of teaching what is teachable about poetry (it provides the The best advice I can think of for anyone who wants to be intellectually enthusiastic and enjoy surpries in life is: make an attempt to visit all used book sales you can, and then someday read the books that you purchase there. This is one of those "Oh, I'll get to it one day" buys that does much to stabilize my faith in the 'read whatever interests you' approach to education. This is a sprawling but focused text which does a great job of teaching what is teachable about poetry (it provides the only useful differentiation between Metonymy and Synechdoche that I've ever encountered) while insisting that poetry is mysterious at its roots. This has my wholehearted recommendation to be on your shelves as a private reader, and maybe even more to be a classroom text in any poetry survay.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Frances Mayes teaches writing (or at least did some time ago) at San Francisco State University. This is a book on writing poetry that is enjoyable for anyone who enjoys poetry, whether they write it or not.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    This was the textbook in my college poetry writing course...lovely examples of poems and interesting exercises to get the creative juices flowing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nattolie

    If I only owned one book about poetry, this would be it. Frances Mayes taught at the university level for almost 30 years. She knows what she's talking about. If I only owned one book about poetry, this would be it. Frances Mayes taught at the university level for almost 30 years. She knows what she's talking about.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    So good I want to actually spend money to buy it and keep it for my own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    It's time to be honest with myself that I'm not finishing this. It's a good introduction to poetry, and I hoped it would inspire me to read more poems. But the main conclusion that I've drawn is that poems are more like music than like novels. You get the most out of them through repetition, and I just don't have time to add a whole new major genre of art to my life right now. Still this is a good reference and has lots of poems to read should the mood ever strike, so I'm glad to have purchased It's time to be honest with myself that I'm not finishing this. It's a good introduction to poetry, and I hoped it would inspire me to read more poems. But the main conclusion that I've drawn is that poems are more like music than like novels. You get the most out of them through repetition, and I just don't have time to add a whole new major genre of art to my life right now. Still this is a good reference and has lots of poems to read should the mood ever strike, so I'm glad to have purchased a copy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tracy O

    The range of poems in this book - particularly the contemporary poems is SO solid. I love Marin Headlands by Jane Miller. I even love the John Ashberry poem in this book and I truly hate John Ashberry's poems. The choices are just great. Here's a W.S. Merwin poem I really like: For the Anniversay of My Death Every year without knowing it I have passed the day When the last fires will wave to me And the silence will set out Tireless traveller Like the beam of a lightless star Then I will no longer Find The range of poems in this book - particularly the contemporary poems is SO solid. I love Marin Headlands by Jane Miller. I even love the John Ashberry poem in this book and I truly hate John Ashberry's poems. The choices are just great. Here's a W.S. Merwin poem I really like: For the Anniversay of My Death Every year without knowing it I have passed the day When the last fires will wave to me And the silence will set out Tireless traveller Like the beam of a lightless star Then I will no longer Find myself in life as in a strange garment Surprised at the earth And the love of one woman And the shamelessness of men As today writing after three days of rain Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease And bowing not knowing to what Anyway, I highly recommend checking this out. It is full of beautiful poems, quotes and pieces of poems - sort of the Joni Mitchell Blue of my poetry collection. A total surprise.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Literary Mama

    Frances Mayes was one of my undergraduate professors, and her The Discovery of Poetry is a classic. Covering everything from 'The Origin of a Poem,' to how to interpret and write about poetry, Mayes includes a Poet’s Handbook with suggestions for writing, revising, and publishing. Her friendly tone conveys passion for her subject, as in this line comparing metaphor to Roman augury, 'the root that says unlike things have mysterious, informing links which we can discover.' Educational passages are Frances Mayes was one of my undergraduate professors, and her The Discovery of Poetry is a classic. Covering everything from 'The Origin of a Poem,' to how to interpret and write about poetry, Mayes includes a Poet’s Handbook with suggestions for writing, revising, and publishing. Her friendly tone conveys passion for her subject, as in this line comparing metaphor to Roman augury, 'the root that says unlike things have mysterious, informing links which we can discover.' Educational passages are buoyed by a good selection of relatively diverse, canonical poems. For more recommendations on craft books, visit Literary Mama's Essential Reading List for September: http://www.literarymama.com/litreflec...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Philip Gordon

    This was the text used in my first year poetry course at Vancouver Island University. It's a wonderfully structured book with great examples, a wide-breadth of subject matter and voices, engaging instructive style, and some very moving poems selected as well. I'd highly recommend it for anyone interested in the craft of poetry. I reread some of the poems inside on a daily basis ('Dulce et decorum est', 'From An Atlas of the Difficult World', 'Jubilate Agno', and others) and felt overcome by emot This was the text used in my first year poetry course at Vancouver Island University. It's a wonderfully structured book with great examples, a wide-breadth of subject matter and voices, engaging instructive style, and some very moving poems selected as well. I'd highly recommend it for anyone interested in the craft of poetry. I reread some of the poems inside on a daily basis ('Dulce et decorum est', 'From An Atlas of the Difficult World', 'Jubilate Agno', and others) and felt overcome by emotion each time. A wonderful book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Johnson

    The perfect introduction to all forms of poetry and many, many wonderful poems from famous poets past and present. Frances lists lots of excellent poetry exercises at the end too. I can't wait to read Under the Tuscan Sun next. The perfect introduction to all forms of poetry and many, many wonderful poems from famous poets past and present. Frances lists lots of excellent poetry exercises at the end too. I can't wait to read Under the Tuscan Sun next.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Read for a poetry class. Gives some great advice for those interested in writing poetry and she also includes a wonderful selection of poetry examples that runs the gamut.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    I'm reading this as part of a poetry reading group, and it has been a very helpful guide...especially for someone like me who hasn't put any effort into reading poetry since college. I'm reading this as part of a poetry reading group, and it has been a very helpful guide...especially for someone like me who hasn't put any effort into reading poetry since college.

  19. 5 out of 5

    K

    Reading and using as a resource this month. Lots of writing exercises for the dreaded "writer's block" which is also known as procrastination :-). Reading and using as a resource this month. Lots of writing exercises for the dreaded "writer's block" which is also known as procrastination :-).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abbi Dion

    Pretty great guide. Introduced me to one of my favorite sestinas, "Vanishing Point" http://inwardboundpoetry.blogspot.com... Pretty great guide. Introduced me to one of my favorite sestinas, "Vanishing Point" http://inwardboundpoetry.blogspot.com...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is precisely the sort of book I'd been looking for to help me develop more of an appreciation for poetry. Almost everything I'd been hoping to know more about was here, including how, quite literally, to read a poem. ("[L]et the punctuation mark at the end of the line guide you... If there is no punctuation mark where the line breaks, regard that break as a very slight pause -- a half-comma -- that emphasizes the last word on the line.... [D]on't interrupt your reading of the sentence just This is precisely the sort of book I'd been looking for to help me develop more of an appreciation for poetry. Almost everything I'd been hoping to know more about was here, including how, quite literally, to read a poem. ("[L]et the punctuation mark at the end of the line guide you... If there is no punctuation mark where the line breaks, regard that break as a very slight pause -- a half-comma -- that emphasizes the last word on the line.... [D]on't interrupt your reading of the sentence just because the line stops.") All the major aspects of poetry are discussed -- the texture and sound of words, imagery, subject, speaker, meter, form, etc. -- with lots of wonderful and evocative poems given as examples and reading exercises. If my description is calling to mind the sort of dry, overly academic poetry textbook that Prof. Keating has his students rip pages out of in Dead Poets' Society, rest assured, this is not that sort of book. It's actually a pleasure to read, with the author sharing her knowledge and love of poetry in a warm, engaging style. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars

  22. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    A wonderful anthology of diverse poems and a must-read for any aspiring poet.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    Overall, a good selection that had some surprise obscure poets as well as beloved and immortal poems.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Thompson

    My favorite aspect of this field guide was that Mayes did not shy away from including lengthy poems to illustrate her explanations.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shellie

    I heard a published novelist once say that she was required to take a poetry class in college and hated it because poetry does not pertain to novels. That's sad. I've also read too many novels lately where a writer tried to create imagery and it was trite, wordy and off-putting. I think all writers should love words; the sounds, rhythms and pictures of words are what takes us to that other world and helps us feel. There is nothing wrong with studying the greats and using regular exercises to per I heard a published novelist once say that she was required to take a poetry class in college and hated it because poetry does not pertain to novels. That's sad. I've also read too many novels lately where a writer tried to create imagery and it was trite, wordy and off-putting. I think all writers should love words; the sounds, rhythms and pictures of words are what takes us to that other world and helps us feel. There is nothing wrong with studying the greats and using regular exercises to perfect the craft. This Field Guide delivers exactly what it promises: exposure to great poetry, poetic terminology, tricks, trends and tools as well as ideas to try in your own poetry notebook. In my novice efforts at writing poetry I've gone quickly to that place of flow that I shoot for when writing prose. I was left with a deeper appreciation of the process and a long list of homework assignments that I intend to complete.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tandava Graham

    A fine way to spend some time thinking about poetry with the author. Though I would have preferred more poems with commentary and fewer poems simply printed out at the ends of chapters as additional examples. I'm awfully picky about poetry, and so when faced with a large set of poems I pretty quickly just start cutting out the ones I don't enjoy and not considering them in terms of the actual theme of the chapter. And some were just excessive -- like all 16 pages of The Eve of St. Agnes. Sheesh. A fine way to spend some time thinking about poetry with the author. Though I would have preferred more poems with commentary and fewer poems simply printed out at the ends of chapters as additional examples. I'm awfully picky about poetry, and so when faced with a large set of poems I pretty quickly just start cutting out the ones I don't enjoy and not considering them in terms of the actual theme of the chapter. And some were just excessive -- like all 16 pages of The Eve of St. Agnes. Sheesh. I was also not super thrilled by the portions about writing (as opposed to reading), though the list of exercises in the last chapter could be handy. Still, overall it was perfectly serviceable in terms of getting me warmed up for NaPoWriMo next month.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Margaret1358 Joyce

    A generous, leisurely look-largely, but not exclusively, at English language poetry from a vast historical spectrum-is presented here in such a way that the 'how' of it all, i.e., poetry, leaps off each page. Someone once said that poetry is something that is thrown and which is either caught or not. That's how this book worked for me. Some of it I caught, some I didn't. But the catching-of the metrical, line-break,metaphoric and other magical aspects of lots of moving poems-made this a gratifyi A generous, leisurely look-largely, but not exclusively, at English language poetry from a vast historical spectrum-is presented here in such a way that the 'how' of it all, i.e., poetry, leaps off each page. Someone once said that poetry is something that is thrown and which is either caught or not. That's how this book worked for me. Some of it I caught, some I didn't. But the catching-of the metrical, line-break,metaphoric and other magical aspects of lots of moving poems-made this a gratifying read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Crissy

    I recently picked up this college textbook again and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Ah the change of perspective on a book when it ceases to be "required" reading and enters the realm of pleasure reading. It made my fingers itch to get writing again, and made my mind whirl with ideas for poems, contributing several lines to my "snipets" journal. I recently picked up this college textbook again and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Ah the change of perspective on a book when it ceases to be "required" reading and enters the realm of pleasure reading. It made my fingers itch to get writing again, and made my mind whirl with ideas for poems, contributing several lines to my "snipets" journal.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Teashon

    When I am looking for inspiration, this is one of my go to books. This has a permanent place at my bedside. The book includes a lot of other author's poetry to show, teach and inspire me with my own writing. Mayes an accomplished writer and poet herself, leads you down an inspired path to finding your own prose. When I am looking for inspiration, this is one of my go to books. This has a permanent place at my bedside. The book includes a lot of other author's poetry to show, teach and inspire me with my own writing. Mayes an accomplished writer and poet herself, leads you down an inspired path to finding your own prose.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    as the title suggests, a field guide. good introduction to the mechanics of poetry, and also excellent for gaining immediate exposure to a variety of writers and styles. mayes writes with an obvious passion for the craft, and her insights are valuable.

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