Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux,
The Poet's Companion
(Norton, 1997)

As relative newcomers to the poetry market, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux are all too familiar with the struggles and successes of writing poetry -- struggles and successes that continue despite their places as leading contemporary voices in the American tradition. The Poet's Companion grows out of those ups and downs, focusing both on craft and process.

The Poet's Companion is broken into three sections: Subjects for Writing, The Poet's Craft and The Writing Life. As with most poetry practice books, Addonizio and Laux offer poetry exercises at the end of each chapter, along with model poems throughout the chapters. These poems are decidely contemporary and completely American -- offering the readers a view of what's really going on in the poetry market right now.

Subjects for Writing covers those topics that are most relevant to us as humans: love, loss, nature, politics and family, as well as poetry of place and witness. Addonizio and Laux support the move toward more intimate, raw poetry -- a tradition that started with Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" and continues with Rita Dove, Paul Monette and Patricia Smith (three of the poets featured in the book). The Poet's Craft lists the formal elements that writers must continue to hone, no matter what level of skill or fame they have. Addonizio and Laux encourage readers to become familiar with poetic form and structure; a solid understanding of the basics should be present before the writer moves on to more experiemental forms. The Writing Life offers suggestions and solutions for dealing with writer's block, getting published, and making the most of the electronic age. The authors also include four appendices, listing books on poetry and writing, anthologies of poetry, markets for publication and resources for writers.

Addonizio and Laux both write in an extremely accessible yet intelligent prose style. Each chapter is packed full of information, including exercises, ideas for modifying exercises, and in-depth examinations of model poems and writing styles and techniques. While similar to many of the other poetry guidebooks on the market, The Poet's Companion is the only book I've seen that looks at only contemporary American poetry. Its place as a representative of the current voice of America makes it worth the reading.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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