Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises

Kelsay Books, 2020

Paperback: 62 pages, $16.00

Learning from Inside the Poem: A Review of Inside Out by Marjorie Maddox

by Jessica Gigot


Poetry is for everybody. However, it can often be hard to teach students how to write and understand poetry. Sitting in front of an empty page is daunting!

In her new book Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises, Marjorie Maddox offers an inventive and practical tool for teaching poetry—the body of the poem itself. This new “how-to,” which includes concrete lessons on poetry as well a healthy dose of whimsy, will put your MG and YA students on a fast track towards creating their own work. As she writes in the introduction, “Inside Out teaches writing (and reading) from inside the poem, with plenty of tips and tricks for everyone in and out of the classroom.”

The first part of the book includes demonstrative poems like “How to Smell a Poem” and “Enjambment.” Instead of talking about elements of craft, students can jump in head first and see them at work in an actual poem. Laced with humor and Maddox’s masterful grasp of this genre, these poems are entertaining, easily digestible, and instructive. As an example in “The Short and the Long of It,” a helpful deliberation of line length, she writes:

The bigger inhale is a stanza,
a crisp paragraph of words,
thoughts stacked as neatly as laundry, folded, ready to wear,
just waiting for you
to say them.

The second section offers specific exercises that go deeper into some of the examples provided. The background information and prompts are conversational and accessible. In “Exercise 1: Befriending a Poem” she asks, “So, where’s a place you’d like to invite a poem? What would you like to do together? What would you talk about?” These exercises ignite introspection for all poetry levels and Maddox’s enthusiasm for and appreciation of poetry is contagious.

If you are looking to start teaching poetry or refresh your current approach, this little book has a lot to offer. Also, the glossary is a helpful overview of essential poetry terms. This gift, from a seasoned devotee of poetry, will enliven every classroom and, perhaps, awaken a new generation of poets.

More about Marjorie:

Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry, including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize, 1 of three finalists Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes; re-release Wipf & Stock 2018); True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award Medalist); Wives’ Tales (Seven Kitchens Press Editor’s Series); Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf & Stock 2013); a 2013 ebook of Perpendicular As I ( Kindle version, Nook version, Kobo version); print version of Perpendicular As I (1994 Sandstone Book Award); Weeknights at the Cathedral (WordTech 2006); When The Wood Clacks Out Your Name: Baseball Poems (2001 Redgreene Press Chapbook Winner); Body Parts (Anamnesis Press 1999); Ecclesia (Franciscan University Press, 1997); How to Fit God into a Poem (1993 Painted Bride Chapbook Winner); and Nightrider to Edinburgh (1986 Amelia Chapbook Winner), as well as over 550 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. Her poem, “Arise,” about the Thailand cave rescue, was awarded the 2019 Foley Poetry Prize by America Magazine.