Teaching poetry, and how to write it, can be a daunting exercise the first time. Unlike the tidy step-by-step structures of math or science, poems can feel like obscure jungles full of strangely coloured birds and sly, teacher-threatening predators: “Teacher … what does assonance mean (giggle, giggle)?”

There is some help. The resources in this list have been recommended by members of the League of Canadian Poets. Many of them either teach or give poetry workshops in schools, and they have found these titles useful.

Understanding Poetry Itself

Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. “A classic …. clear explanations and good examples of the often technical terms used in poetry.”

Hughes, Ted. Poetry in The Making: An Anthology of Poems and Programmes from ‘Listening and Writing’. Faber & Faber, 1967. “A superb book for your purposes… [I’ve used it] in first-year
university courses and students consistently respond with delight. It ends up often prompting students who’ve never written a poem, who’ve even been afraid of poetry, attempting their own poems–and coming up with something more than heartfelt statement.”

Ioannou, Susan. A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem. Wordwrights Canada, 2000. “A Magical Clockwork reveals the subtle mechanisms that make a poem tick … the secrets behind inspiration and good writing…”

Kinzie, Mary. A Poet’s Guide To Poetry. University of Chicago Press,1999. “It’s the best thing out there: it’s not particularly esoteric, fairly easy to read, and has wonderful exercises for both
beginning and advanced writers, as well as a lot of useful definitions and techniques. This would be for the senior secondary student teacher — as enrichment.”

Nickel, Barbara. From the Top of a Grain Elevator. Beach Holme, 1996, and Teacher’s Guide. The poetry book is aimed at readers aged 8 to 11, and “Because of the wide range of poetic forms and
techniques used in this collection, it can be used as a tool for teaching poetry in classrooms ranging from grade three through grade nine. The accompanying teacher’s guide moves through the basic elements of poetry, specifying poems from the book for discussion, and exercises, as well as suggestions for setting up a poetry unit and links to other subjects.”

Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook. Harcourt Brace, 1994. “Celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells us how a poem is built: with meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense…”

Perrine, Laurence. Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry (8th ed.). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ” It is full of poems, interesting ones, and only useful text. Certainly nothing boring. It asks more questions than it answers, and while it’s kept much of the best, it’s also added much more current stuff as well.”

Walcott, Derek. What the Twilight Says. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. “Just a beautifully written set of essays on the place of poetry — ‘place’ in various senses — and his reaction to a range of poets.”

Teaching Ideas and Exercises

Behn, Robin and Twichell, Chase. The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach. Harper Collins, 1992.

Booth, David and Moore, Bill. Poems, Please! Sharing Poetry with Children. Pembroke, 1988.

Koch, Kenneth. Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry. Harper & Row, 1970. “Sort of old, but still excellent…”

Tucker, Shelley. Painting the Sky: Writing Poetry with Children. Goodyear, 1998. “…an excellent book”

Struthers, Betsy and Klassen, Sarah (eds.). Poets in the Classroom. League of Canadian Poets/ Pembroke, 1995. “A unique opportunity to meet, hear and talk with published poets … includes fresh ideas for exploring poetry in all grade levels and for understanding how ‘professional poets’ work.”


Booth, David (ed.) Doctor Knickerbocker & Other Rhymes. Kids Can Press, 1993. “…more than 100 of the best, the funniest, the naughtiest and the most memorable schoolyard rhymes – jingles,
riddles, ball-bounce chants, tongue-twisters, action songs…”

Booth, David (ed.) Till All The Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children. “Including works by Margaret Atwood, bp Nichol and A.M. Klein .. [an] this award-winning illustrated collection
of Canadian poetry..”

“Ribsauce: Words by Women,” Vehicule Press /Wired on Words. “24 women authors on the page and 15 female voices recorded on CD… an edgy, powerful, focused look at what young Canadian women writers are doing across the country”

Little, Jean. Hey World, Here I Am! Kids Can Press, 1986. “A funny and poignant collection of poems, observations and vignettes about life, friendship, family, identity and love.” -School Library
Journal Ages 9 – 15 (Grades 4 -10)

McMaster, Susan. Learning to Ride. Quarry Press. “Learning to ride” is a metaphor for the growth in confidence and flight of the spirt she experiences as a novice rider. This unique equestrian
book inludes poems on stable management, braiding, warming up, winter riding and other horse lore.”

Swift, Todd (ed.), Poetry Nation. Vehicule Press. (recommended for students 16 and over because of language)

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