[A Magical Clockwork]

  A Magical Clockwork
   The Art of Writing the Poem

   by Susan Ioannou

   "I highly recommend"
   "a good book by a good poet"
   "You'll come away impressed."





About the Book
From the Preface
Table of Contents
Canadian Poets Quoted
Reviewers Praise
About the Author
In-depth Study
Order Information
About the Book

Why should the art of poetry be a mystery? Quoting over 60 of our best poets—from Atwood through Lane to Wayman—A Magical Clockwork reveals the subtle mechanisms that make a poem tick. To share the secrets behind good writing, through discussion and example it explores such key elements as immediacy, movement, persona, image, symbol, line, pattern, metre, free verse, rhyme, tone, and vision—all from a uniquely Canadian perspective. A Magical Clockwork not only guides and inspires, but is a pleasure to read. It is also the official textbook for the Wordwrights Canada online poetry writing course Lessons in Writing the Poem.

From the Preface

"As another massive technological change begins the millennium, many wonder what the 'new' movement in Canadian poetry will be. Some even hoped this book might herald the revolution. On the contrary, A Magical Clockwork offers no manifesto, nor does it 'break new ground'. Believing a wrench is still useful in a digital age, it simply looks at the mechanics of the poet's art and the many ways the parts of a poem fit together.

"Much of the motivation is personal. For over four decades, I have tried to write poetry myself. As trial and error humbled me, I wondered why I dared to write at all: the words were slippery, and the result never quite what I dreamed. Oddly enough, frustration with craft kept me going. Little by little I learned questions to ask to find out what makes a poem tick.

"This book shares what long struggle has taught me—principles I hope will be helpful to others. Some were discovered in solving problems within my own poems; some from analysing why a colleague's lines read so brilliantly, or fell apart. The rest emerged here and there as I read articles, books, and reviews.

"The answers I needed were not the dictates of any one movement or school on what stance toward the world poetry should adopt. Like software, such theories go out of date every few years. Instead of high-tech priests, I searched for tinkerers and technicians—those who could take the hardware of a poem apart and expose its magical clockwork, share trade secrets and tools."

Table of Contents
Chapter 1
The Parallel World
Vladimir Nabokov likened the writer to a magician. Discover the artistic sleights of hand to create an imaginary world and draw the reader in.
Chapter 2
The Persona
Learn another way to lead the reader through the poem's imaginary world, using the intimate voice of a guide.
Chapter 3
The Image
Explore multiple forms of imagery (from a single word, through extended metaphor, to embedded symbolism) to enliven and unify the poem.
Chapter 4
Sound
From conversational free verse, through rhythm, metre, and rhyme, develop a full range of sound effects to make a poem dance in the ear.
Chapter 5
Vision
Delve into the rich sources of content that make a poem worthwhile, absorbing, and memorable reading.
Chapter 6
The Magic
Tap into the wellsprings of inspiration that lie behind all clockwork to create the finest poems.
And more Understand the poetic impulse of yesterday, today, and tomorrow within the larger context of twentieth-century Canadian writing.

Reviewers Praise

"I highly recommend [A Magical Clockwork] to anybody who writes. I think it's invaluable to read and also to have as a reference source to go back to when you're working. I know I will."—Nancy Jane Bullis, Host, HOWL, CIUT 89.5 FM, Toronto

"I like it a lot, and would heartily endorse it as a primer for almost any level of poetry workshop: it's well thought-out and the reader gets lots of meat and potatoes, no inspirational fluff or flatus. . . . This is a good book by a good poet and perfectly priced for the financially strapped student."—Richard Stevenson, The Danforth Review

". . . it's the classy educational tour that encourages readers not to be page turners, but to go deep. . . . Here's a guarantee: you'll come away impressed from this tour. Read Ioannou's book and recommend it to all your friends, those who feel awkward and excluded by poetry and those who love and care about what makes a good poem."—Jannie Edwards, Poetry Spoken Here

"She believes in the craft and in the importance of poetry itself in the world. This book is designed to help the reader appreciate and perfect the craft of poetry. It must be made clear that this is a technical book and not a self-helpy you-too-can-be-a-poet type treatise."—Jeffrey Mackie, Vallum Magazine

"She is a wonderful instructor: her tone is familiar rather than academic, her analysis is fluid and clear, and examples are brief and apt. And these are just a few of the book's virtues. Ioannou also draws almost exclusively upon Canadian examples. . . . Perhaps most importantly, Ioannou lives up to her own principle— inherited from the Imagist tradition—that 'Precise, concrete language is the foundation of vivid writing . . .' A Magical Clockwork includes one of the clearest explanations of rhythm and poetic metre that I have ever come across"—Rob Thomas, WORD

"I highly recommend this book. A Magical Clockwork is a clear analysis of the structure of a poem. Ioannou illustrates her arguments with excellent examples. Most of the excerpts are by Canadian poets and would be very useful for classroom study. I also appreciated the brief historical context she provided to illustrate her points. Especially interesting was her discussion of contemporary Canadian poetry: how it evolved and speculations about future forms. Every teacher of English/Language Arts in Canada should have easy access to A Magical Clockwork."—Terry Vatrt, CM: Canadian Review of Materials

"Susan Ioannou appreciates all kinds of poetry . . . many good suggestions for various aspects of use of rhythm, rhyme, image, and all those basic kind of things that we're concerned with when we're trying to think specifically about poetry. A unique book. Especially if you are not Canadian, you'll learn a little extra."—Charlie Rossiter, Charlie Says, PoetryPoetry.com

"the book presents a workable framework that not only respects the craft of poetry-writing but also illuminates what makes people so passionate about it. . . . The high quotient of contemporary reference all by itself would make the book of real value in high school English classrooms. As well as analysis of how these poems achieve particular effects, she offers herself as a generous and informed model of how to be a reader of contemporary poetry and why it matters."—Margaret Mackey, Resource Links

"A Magical Clockwork succeeds at examining the fundamental elements of a poem, making it an ideal read for anyone who is just beginning to delve into the world of poetry. I would also recommend it to established writers as a valuable reminder that there are still many lessons to be learned from reading other people's work."—Leila S. Goldberger, Writer's Block

"In communicating what she knows about poetry, Ioannou presents herself not as an expert but as a fellow traveller on an ever-changing journey. Her easy conversational tone is extremely readable and a welcome relief from the jargon typical of books which attempt to educate teachers. Ioannou has written this book as a gift to those of us who appreciate good poetry, are curious about what makes it good, and would like to write some ourselves and perhaps help others with their writing. . . . One characteristic that really sets A Magical Clockwork apart from other books about writing poetry is its 'Canadian-ness' . . . Reading this book really opened my eyes to the richness and diversity of Canadian poetry. . . . Any teacher who wants to get serious about poetry writing, or has students who are serious about it, should take a look at this book."—Heather Crawford, BCTELA Update

Recommended under Teacher Resources, Ontario Curriculum Centre Course Profile (Spring 2001), page 26


Canadian Poets Quoted
Milton Acorn
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Avison
Shaunt Basmajian
E.D. Blodgett
Elizabeth Brewster
Robert Bringhurst
Fred Candelaria
Fred Cogswell
Tony Cosier
Lorna Crozier
James Deahl
David Donnell
Gwladys Downes
Louis Dudek
Chris Faiers
Robert Flanagan
R.A.D. Ford
Leona Gom
Eldon Grier
Ralph Gustafson
Jeanne Harrison
Susan Ioannou
Kevin Irie
Paulette Jiles
George Johnston
D.G. Jones
Lionel Kearns
W.J. Keith
Wayne Keon
Archibald Lampman
M. Travis Lane
Patrick Lane
Irving Layton
Charles Lillard
Dorothy Livesay
Pat Lowther
Gwendolyn MacEwen
Jay Macpherson
Anne Marriott
Mary Melfi
Sparling Mills
A.F. Moritz
Daniel David Moses
Susan Musgrave
Roger Nash
Ted Plantos
Al Purdy
Jean Royer
D.C. Scott
F.R. Scott
Goran Simic
Robin Skelton
Kathleen V. Skene
Glen Sorestad
Raymond Souster
Ken Stange
Susan McMaster
George Swede
Colleen Thibaudeau
John Thompson
Ian Douglas Trowell
Peter Van Toorn
Miriam Waddington
Tom Wayman
George Whipple
Anne Wilkinson
Andrew Wreggitt

About the Author

For more than thirty years, Susan Ioannou has been involved with writing. Her major poetry collections are Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth (Your Scrivener Press), Where the Light Waits (Ekstasis Editions), and Clarity Between Clouds (Goose Lane Editions). She is also the author of the children's novels A Real Farm Girl (Hodgepog Books) and The Hidden Valley Mystery (Wordwrights Canada). Poet, essayist, and fiction author, she has performed her work around Toronto, on radio and television, and at Harbourfront. To learn more about Susan's writing, click on University of Toronto Canadian Poets.

In-depth Study

To develop your poetic technique further, Wordwrights Canada also offers an online poetry writing course. For details, click Lessons in Writing the Poem.


Order Information

A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem, Paperback, by Susan Ioannou (Toronto: Wordwrights Canada, 2000), 160 pages, ISBN 978-0-920835-12-8, $16.95.

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    Updated February 2014