Home > Writing and Poetry > The Poetry Tool for the Prose Writer

The Poetry Tool for the Prose Writer

Meena Rose Muro, our marvelous Wednesday guest, spends time and effort on her poetry as well as prose. From experience I can attest to the haunting beauty of much of her verse. It’s all poignant. She brought up a wonderful point yesterday. She mentioned the “shorter life cycle of writing verse.”

I considered that idea for a while before I recognized the truth of it. Meena is a very astute individual. The initial idea for a poem, first draft of the poem, and overall consideration of poetic structure seems to take little actual time. I’m going to hear about that statement from the poets out there, but stay with me on this.

Superior poetry takes time, thought, precision, and talent. Sometimes, though, for those really gifted in thinking in verse, time doesn’t flow the same as for those whose talent lies elsewhere. Meena and others like her tend to think in verse. Some I know think in both rhyme and meter, as well.

Putting that aside, however, I’d like to shift directions and talk about some of the benefits of writing poetry. A.E. Houseman said, “Poetry is not the thing said but a way of saying it.” Housemen should know.

The thing that forces poetry into its own category of writing is that all poetry tells it’s story through the senses wrapped in emotion. That emotion can be overt in order to share the poet’s feelings about the subject with the reader, or so covert that the only emotion felt is that which the reader feels so deep inside of him/herself that no amount of analytical scrubbing can remove it. These are the haunting ones.

W.H. Auden probably said it best when he remarked, “Poetry is “a game of knowledge, a bringing to consciousness, by naming them, of emotions and their hidden relationships.”

What does this writing form do for the writer? Regardless of the writer’s talent in verse, the act of writing poetry pushes the mind to think in very emotional terms and forces those emotions onto the paper in the form of precise words and phrases that both describe and make visual. For the visual quality of the verse is it’s gift to the reader. Without that component there would be little point to writing poetry at all.

Case in point: Homer will undoubtedly reign supreme as the most beloved of ancient poets. Thousands of years ago, he wrote fantastic stories, fleshing them out to epic proportions, bringing to life the gods, goddesses, heroes and heroines of his time. He was a historian as much as poet, for much that we know of the ancient world began with his words, to be authenticated by archeologists in the last two centuries. His tales of the world’s wonders catalog the beliefs of his day and delineated many of the moral compass points of his and later generations.

Tennyson took his and following generations on a trip through Arthurian lore, bringing what might have been an obscure ruler to the heights of legend. Today his “Lady of the Lake” is still a much-read epic poem. Shakespeare, Longfellow, Whitman, and all of their followers continued the tradition of history and social commentary in verse. Much of today’s writing techniques began in poetry to make “short life cycles” carry more impact. Enter the allegory, simile, metaphor, etc.

I ran across an exercise recommended for the writer working in Creative Nonfiction. I found it in “Writing Creative Nonfiction”, edited by Carolyn Forche and Phillip Gerard, pg. 13. It’s beautifully simple in how it works, for it doesn’t  require talent in verse. It only requires the writer to shift gears mentally.

Here’s how it works:

1. Take any memory of a real-life event, personal/public that interests you deeply. Write a short poem about it.

2. In the poem, identify the Subject that was triggered by the poem.

3. From the poem write a Creative Nonfiction piece about the same Subject.

Example: This is the poem I wrote just for the exercise.

Laughter’s Liquid Embrace

Tumbling emerald water dressed in white,

Racing toward stillness below height’s thirst,

Sprinkling sparkle-flecked boulders, reflecting

Sky’s cloud dance among tall pines’  needle tips.

All but none see nature’s secret patterns.

Breezes tease wings playing on thermals high,

Slipping through God’s fingers for ground below.

Loops, twirls, laughter rings leaving behind joy.

One summer day given to all for play.

The Subject was Glacier Park on a summer day and what I witnessed there. The Creative Nonfiction piece written from it could be: a) the state of the glaciers for which the park is named, b) the changing wildlife populations within the park and the causes for the changes, c) why the water in the rivers and streams in the park really is emerald green. d) what are nature’s secret patterns that are so prevalent that the person both sees and doesn’t see them?

One poem, four perfectly good Subjects with appropriate, if tentative, articles.

The above example is but one more reason poetry is so critical to writers. It forces us to think of something both inside and outside of ourselves and what that something means. It changes how we look at ourselves and everything else in the world. And it allows us to write in ways that reach people everywhere, regardless of language. I’d say that is a powerful purpose for keeping it around and learning to use it as a tool that benefits me as a writer.

How about you? If you’ve never tried verse, are you willing now to give it a try to see if it helps you see both the piper and the rats?

Until next time when Deb Hockenberry will join us for a Q & A on writing and the writing life. I hope to see you here.

A bientot,

Claudsy

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