Written by Pauletta Hansel, Writer-in-Residence, Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library
Our 2022 Writer-in-Residence, Pauletta Hansel, is a poet, memoirist, teacher, and editor. Attend her upcoming workshops and writers' office hours. And, listen to her as host of CHPL's "Inside the Writer's Head" podcast, opens a new window.
At a recent panel for the Ohioana Library Book Festival, I said that my primary form of inspiration was to read other poems, opens a new window. And this is true—reading poetry can open up a space in me for my own images and words. But as a poet and especially as a teacher of poetry, books that offer writing prompts and craft tips are incredibly useful. Reading books and articles about the craft of writing is something almost all writers do. But how do you choose which will be helpful over time? Luckily for us, we have CHPL to help us decide!
Inspiration Through Reading
The course for a library item from acquisition to distribution is an amazing montage of technological and human ingenuity. A visit to CHPL's Distribution Center gave me an inside view of this process of how the books we check out get into our hands.
Among the many things I didn’t know: when a library is first to acquire a particular book, they create the “fingerprint,” (to add my own metaphor) that will follow the book to all the other library systems that acquire it. The card catalog number, book summary, subject, and genre are added to a database by a librarian and used by all future librarians around the country.
For this month’s post, I’m focusing on books about writing all of which have gone through this amazing journey!
Wingbeats, by Scott Wiggerman
Poet Scott Wiggerman’s “Wingbeats” series has long been among my “go-to” books for creating writing prompts for my classes, and even for myself. Each book includes detailed prompts by writers who also teach. As Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate, I offered a project called “The Cincinnati Walking Sonnet, opens a new window” designed to get folks out to our streets to observe and write. This activity was adapted from Rosa Alcalá’s “A Walking Petrarchan Sonnet” in Wingbeats I.
The founder of Terrapin Books, Diane Lockward, is the editor of four poetry craft books. She writes in the Introduction to her newest that her books, “[emerge] out of my belief that craft can be taught and that the best teacher of craft is a good poem.” While Lockward’s books include prompts, there are also short essays on craft by a far-ranging group of poets, many of whom focus on the craft choices made in their own poems.
How the Light Gets In, by Pat Schneider
I would never write in a library book, but my personal copy of How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider has been read so many times that hardly a page hasn’t been underlined. This is among my favorites for teaching memoirs, not because of its specific focus on craft, but because of how it illuminates a lifetime of writing from the deepest part of one’s self. Pat Schneider died in 2020 at the age of 86. She was the founder/director of Amherst Writers & Artists and published many books of poems and nonfiction, in addition to being a playwright. How the Light Gets In was her final book, published in 2013. It includes poems and passages of memoir but goes underneath the polished literary version of life to show the practical and spiritual “practice” necessary to bring that life to the page. Writing Alone and Writing with Others, Pat Schneider’s book of writing prompts for both prose and poetry, is also available at the library. I recommend watching this rare interview with Schneider, opens a new window recorded the year before she died for more perspective from her.
The late Tony Hoagland was a prolific poet, known for his storytelling and leaps of imagination. He was clearly a remarkable teacher as well, evidenced by his essays on craft. Here are a couple of my favorites, with essays that always generate interesting class discussions—and poems!
Tell It Slant, by Brenda Miller and Suzanna Paola
In a previous post, opens a new window, I provided a list of books, opens a new window I use in my memoir classes. Tell It Slant is another book I often assign. This textbook is not strictly for memoir but rather dedicated to the craft of creative nonfiction as a whole. There are helpful sections on publishing, lots of writing prompts, and a short anthology of essays and other nonfiction pieces—even a graphic memoir.
During my visit to CHPL’s Distribution Center, I met Denise Miller, the Adult Materials Selection Librarian. Part of Denise’s job is to find books customers will want to read. She told me that there is a bumper crop of writing guides being published this spring (Maybe all that rain!). I’m excited to check out (in both senses of the phrase) those she has chosen for the Library’s collection.
Request Your Favorite
You don’t need to be Writer-in-Residence to recommend a book to the Library’s Materials Selection Department! If your chosen book isn’t already in CHPL’s collection, request them to be added through this form, opens a new window.
Denise Miller says, “Within two weeks or so of a request submission, customers can find our response in the Suggest Purchases tab in their account’s Library Dashboard, opens a new window. If we accept the request, the order record will appear in our public catalog within a day or two, and customers then place a hold on the item.”
What are your favorite books that inspire you to write? Let us know in the comments below!