Last summer, when I was preparing for my AP poetry unit, I found The Making of a Poem at the library. I ended up returning it and buying my own copy, I loved it so much. This book helped me structure my class for poetry using forms and it also introduced me to a lot of poems which I would now count as favorites.
The book is broken up into four parts: Verse Forms, Meter, Shaping Forms, and Open Forms. Each part is sectioned off into specifics, for example, Verse Forms covers the villanelle, the sestina, the pantoum, the sonnet, the ballad, blank verse, the heroic couplet, and the stanza. Within each segment, we are offer the form at a glance, the history of the form, and the contemporary context. Each segment also has a close-up of a particular poem, offering context on the author and the subject.
I found myself quoting Strand as I taught poetry–on the my overview and when I was offering advice to students on writing poems: “A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is like to be. It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, a poem permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves” (Strand xxiv). His ability to articulate the tension of poetry in our lives and our ability to use poetry to find ourselves appeals to me.
The end of the book also contains biographies of all the poets and information for further reading. If you could have just one book for reading and teaching poetry, this would be it. Unfortunately for the world, Mark Strand passed away last November, and I remember remarking to my students what a loss for the world his death was. Bring him back to life by reading this remarkable anthology he created.