A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem


159 pages
ISBN 0-920835-12-0
DDC 808.1





Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


There are numerous handbooks advising beginners on how to write poems.
This one is different in that nearly all the examples are drawn from
contemporary Canadian poets. Susan Ioannou claims that her answers to
poetic problems do not involve “the dictates of any one movement or
school,” but I doubt if that is possible. Even her concentration on
Canadian examples presupposes a kind of nationalism that many poets
consider limiting.

Ioannou devotes separate chapters or sections to such topics as the
persona, the image, various types of metaphor, free verse, etc., and
many of her discussions of individual poems make valid and useful
points. But this kind of breakdown creates its own problems. I was
generally convinced by Ioannou’s specific instances, but it often
seemed that a quoted poem contained other deficiencies that passed
without comment. Ultimately, it is the whole that counts. I would have
preferred fewer examples of details and some full-scale analyses of the
total effect of specific poems.

Toward the end of the book, Ioannou writes of certain poets who “have
shown little reverence for literary history.” Unfortunately, her own
grasp is uncertain. In one rather simplified foray into the English
poetic tradition, she misdates Pope’s Essay on Man and implies that
Marvell’s poetry preceded Donne’s. Similarly, she gives the
impression that virtually all contemporary poets concentrate on free
verse—as if writers like David Solway, Richard Outram, and Jeffery
Donaldson (none of whom is mentioned here) were not active and

I am sympathetic to Ioannou’s intentions, applaud her enthusiasm, and
am grateful for her generous comments on one of my own poems. My unease,
I suppose, stems from my doubt whether such books ever succeed.
Ultimately, every poet must find his or her poetic voice; it is a lonely
endeavor and takes years to achieve. Still, poetry-writing beginners, if
they read with a cool detachment, will find some interesting suggestions


Ioannou, Susan., “A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/7608.