Marjorie Maddox has done something rather creative and clever in her new poetry collection. She’s written poems about reading and writing poems. Inside Out is not so much a book that tells how to read a poem or how to write a poem; instead, it shows you.
And that’s the key — it’s a book that shows rather than tells. This isn’t the teacher standing at the front of the classroom, giving us one more lecture on how to write a poem. This is us, sitting on the floor and surrounding the teacher, as we all add the wings to the airplane while it’s flying.
It’s downright fun, in fact. I can’t remember a time when an instruction manual made me smile, over and over again.
Maddox begins with five poems about poetry and the five senses. In poetic form, she shows how to see a poem, hear, a poem, taste it, smell it, and touch it: “The table’s well set, but please / come as you are. No need for white gloves or black tuxedos …” And after exploring all these ways of experiencing a poem, it’s time to make a new friend.
Befriending a Poem
he may be as tired and as overworked
as his distant cousin Cliché.
Best to offer intriguing conversation
that’s light on analysis.
Allow for silences and spontaneity.
Most importantly, like any good friend,
be faithful and patient;
remember to listen.
Sometimes he’s shy
and just needs a little time and coaxing.
Much of what he has to say
lies between the lines.
She covers all the basics of reading and writing poetry — simile and metaphor, dramatic monologues, paradox, rhyming, alliterations, concrete versus abstract language and more. And then she writes a couplet to explain how to write a couplet/ And a clerihew. And iambic pentameter. And sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles. And even how to write yourself out of a paper bag.
Even then, she’s not finished. She includes nine exercises you can do, individually or possibly in a group, to show yourself how it’s done.
Maddox is the author of 10 previous poetry collections, including Nightrider to Edinburgh (1986), Body Parts (1999); Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (2004 and now being republished by Wipf and Stock Publishers); Weeknights at the Cathedral (2006); Local News from Someplace Else (2013); Perpendicular as I (1999 and 2013); and True, False, None of the Above (2018). She is the co-author of the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (2005) and author of two children’s books, including Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (2009).
Inside Out is addressed to young writers, but it has an appeal to writers of any age and experience. Maddox has created a simple, straightforward, and fun way to read and write poetry. It’s pure genius.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish