The Hand of the Poet

A poet is a poet for such a very tiny bit of his life; for the rest he is a human being, one of whose responsibilities is to know and feel, as much as he can, all that is moving around and within him.

–Dylan Thomas

This unique volume, with introduction by Dana Gioia, celebrates poetry by providing a personal, intimate connection with the act of its creation. Based on an enormously successful exhibition at The New York Public Library, The Hand of the Poet draws the reader into the real world of the poet– ink spots, tobacco stains, and all– by presenting a wide range of working drafts, letters, diary entries, photographs, and memorabilia. One hundred writers from the seventeenth century to the present day are represented, from John Donne to Mark Strand, Samuel Coleridge to Anne Waldman, Lord Byron to Julia Alvarez, William Blake to Lorine Niedecker and Stanley Kunitz. Writers better known for their prose are included here as well– Rudyard Kipling and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.

This book records the place of poetry in daily life and how, exactly, we turn to it as, in the words of Allen Ginsberg, not “just pretty or just beautiful,” but “basic to human existence.” As Dana Gioia notes in his introduction, “The Magical Value of Manuscripts,” contact with handwritten manuscripts speaks to the same desire manifest in the explosion of poetry readings occurring today nationwide.

Biographies and portraits of each poet– alongside manuscripts of such legendary works as Yeats’s “The Wild Swans at Coole” and W. H. Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks”– make up a mosaic that offers powerful and often surprising revelations of the person behind the poem.

Illustrated with over three hundred black-and-white photographs, The Hand of the Poet is for those new to poetry as well as those for whom poetry has been a life-long passion. Following both the inspiration and the labors of these writers, readers may find themselves in the position of Ralph Waldo Emerson following the travels of Henry David Thoreau: “It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own….”