The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward

Diane Lockward. The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Nicholasville, KY: Wind Publications, 2013. 263 pages. $20, paper.

I’m fascinated by artistic process. Get me in the same room as an actor, photographer, sculptor, or painter, and I’ll ask incessant questions about inspiration, methods of invention, and how the artist revises within his or her particular medium. When I discovered Diane Lockward’s book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, it seemed to be written with someone like me in mind, someone curious about how others approach their craft.

More than just a collection of writing prompts (though The Crafty Poet is very much about thwarting writer’s block), this book also includes poems paired with interviews by the poets, each of whom discusses with Lockward the process of creation. The craft tips, contributed by well-known contemporary poets, are as philosophical as they are practical. In her introduction, Lockward tells us “that our very best teachers are the poems we read,” and it is in this spirit that she includes a wealth of sample poems throughout the volume.

Born out of Lockward’s popular “Poetry Newsletter” and her segment “The Poet on the Poem,” which is featured on Blogalicious, this book covers many different aspects of creating a poem, ranging from generating material to the revision process. The organization makes sense, and though Lockward says, “The Crafty Poet assumes a fairly knowledgeable reader,” a novice poet with the appropriate guidance from an instructor would find much value here. The experienced poet working alone will rarely be at a loss for ideas, as this book is a handy go-to resource for prompts and advice.

My favorite way to enjoy this book is to simply open it and see where I land. It is in this manner that I discover Martha Silano’s poem, “It’s All Gravy,“ and learn how her work is inspired by Pablo Nerudo. We all know what it’s like to immerse ourselves in a favorite poet, and she describes this experience well when she states, “I have read some of Neruda’s food odes so many times it’s like I have a Neruda microchip inside me.”

I find inspiration in “Craft Tip #16: Drawing Blood: How to Go Deep,” when Jan Beatty writes,

It’s essential for us, as writers, to write what we’re afraid to write—the very thing we sometimes try to avoid saying. That writing will stretch us so that we can encounter the sweet deep inside of the body that runs us tight like a clock and wild like an animal, but always moving along the line of uncertainty.

This is, for me, timely wisdom, as I struggle with this concept in my own work. The ease with which I’m able to dip in and emerge with something so profound, demonstrates the rich content of Diane Lockward’s book.

When Lockward states the philosophy behind The Crafty Poet, she says, “It is my hope that this book will provide poets and poetry students with a good deal of education and inspiration.” This desire is evident, as she has turned to some of our best contemporary poets to help her construct this book. Along with the two I mention above, the book also includes Kim Addonizio, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Lola Haskins, Jeffrey Levine, Baron Wormser, and many others.


The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop is an essential text for any poet. Diane Lockward has curated for us an abundant collection of inspirations and advice, and together with her many noteworthy contributors she succeeds in “making the day with nothing to say a thing of the past.”

More about this poet:

Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. Her poems have been included in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Gwarlingo, and The Writer’s Almanac. She is the Poet Laureate of West Caldwell, NJ where she runs two annual events: Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women’s History Month and the West Caldwell Poetry Festival.