“In the Palm of Your Hand” Review

4-star rating

I dabble in writing poetry, so years ago a now-deceased poet-acquaintance recommended I pick up a copy of Steve Kowit’s book. At the time, I couldn’t get more than a few chapters into Palm because I wasn’t ready for it. It went back on the shelf.

Since then, my poems have been well received, even sweeping the poetry awards at a local writers’ conference last year. So a few months ago, I decided it was time to give the book another try. Four chapters in, I stalled out again, but after a few weeks away from it, I decided to keep going. I’m glad I did.

The book’s two subtitles, “The poet’s portable workshop,” and “A lively and illuminating guide for the practicing poet” turned out to be accurate. Chapters 2 to 27 (of 30) end with exercises to encourage the reader to practice the topics discussed, and it was the exercises in chapters 2-4 that caused me to put the book down. Kowit was asking me to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing, dredging up old, perhaps unhappy memories. While this sort of material can certainly produce powerful poetry, this demand this early in the book is one of my few major complaints. Perhaps for the “practicing poet,” this kind of work is less challenging, but for the novice, particularly someone uninterested in revisiting those times, this can be intimidating enough to cause him or her to stop reading and stop trying. It would have been better, for this reader anyway, if these chapters had been placed later in the book.

To read the rest of this review, please click here.

2 comments on ““In the Palm of Your Hand” Review

  1. moomin102 says:

    Thank you Ross. You’re still cookin. Good.
    I I remember a Berkeley poet (first name?) Loewinsohn saying in earshot, poetry was like the mathematics of prose. Maybe. I’ve always found it formidable.
    I once subscribed to a year of POETRY; found much of the post modern stuff inaccessible.
    You are hardly a dabbler if you’ve won poetry prizes c.
    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    • Thanks! Yeah, there’s a lot of poetry out there that leaves me scratching my head too. Cowit explains the why of some of it, but honestly I didn’t find his explanation all that compelling. It’s kind of like jazz: in the 1930s and ’40s, jazz was music to dance to. Then, in the ’50s and later, musicians got so experimental that not only could you not dance to it, ordinary listeners couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Sadly, some of that persists today.

      As for winning prizes, the dirty little secret of any contest is that the quality of your work is only one factor in determining who wins and who doesn’t. The tastes and preferences of the judge(s) are another, as is the quality of the other submissions. I submitted those winning poems to a much larger contest later in the year and couldn’t even crack the top 50.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s