Book Review: Poetry in the Making

Poetry in the making, by Ted Hughes

Written for young people, this has to be the most beautiful and insightful book I’ve ever read about the magical process of creating writing.

As you would expect, the author uses metaphors from nature to express his ideas about where poetry comes from, and what attitudes and skills a poet needs to develop in himself in order to be able to capture it.

He talks about the inner life, which seems equivalent to what I call the dream-world in these pages. It’s the world of imagination, memory and emotion, stories and images, which goes on all the time beneath the surface, ‘like the heart beat.’ We may be aware of it, or we may not. We may become aware of it through dream-recalling or any creative pursuit.

Hughes compares this inner world with a pond, saying that if we don’t learn the focus, patience and stealth to break into it ‘our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.’

He says you have to care about what you are writing, and if an idea gets stalled it will be because you don’t care enough. You shouldn’t worry about the words, but cleave to the imagination and emotion in your idea, then the words will follow in an organic way.

The review from the Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the back cover, says, ‘He makes the whole venture seem enjoyable, and somehow urgent.’

That’s exactly what the book conveys to me – the sense of venture, pleasure and also the importance of this inner journey, which takes you to the heart of who you are, and what life is.

Like most writers, I love reading about writing. Have you got a favourite book on writing that you’d like to recommend?

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13 thoughts on “Book Review: Poetry in the Making”

  1. What a fab post Jenny! This book sounds wonderful and I, like Josie, will also be ordering one. I don’t tend to read books about writing, but am regularly inspired by other people’s writing. In particular, if I’m in a poetry writing mood, I’ll submerge myself in one of my many Leonard Cohen books. I think reading and absorbing the work of writers you admire and connect with, is one of the best ways to improve your own writing.

  2. Leonard Cohen – yes! I love his songs, but have never possessed one of his books – I’m off to amazon after I’ve posted this. Thank you for the suggestion, Abi. He’s another poet who has real depth and passion, but writes in a strong, direct voice, that you totally trust.

  3. For children’s writing, don’t miss Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT or Jane Yolen’s TAKE JOY (both have advice, actually, that applies to all creative writing). I also love Charles Baxter’s BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE.

    1. Thank you for these suggestions Tricia – I’ve never heard of any of them, and I can’t wait to follow them up!

  4. Might sound strange to say so, but one of the best books on writing is “On Writing” by Stephen King. This is the only book of his I’ve ever read, but it’s my new writer’s bible. He focuses on how to write novels mostly–and gives you a great tour of the ups and downs of his life–but even if you’re not planning on novel-writing, you’ll get tremendous advice and inspiration from his plain-spoken style.

  5. Hi Tony – I love Stephen King’s book too. Like you, I’ve never read any of his other books, but sopmeone recommended ‘On Writing’ and I really enjoyed the mix of memoir and writing practice. As you say, he has a very engaging and plain-spoken style.

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