To See the World in a Grain of Sand: Poetry for Fiction Writers

Novel Ideas for a Teen Writer had an excellent post a few days ago about the use of poetry for fiction writers. While poetry is certainly a distinct genre of its own, and requires a wide range of different tools that those used by novelists, I believe that studying and writing poetry can improve one’s prose considerably. The frugal use of words, careful word placement, and unique pacing and timing can add that extra literary punch to pivotal scenes, not to mention adding a depth to character thought or the poignancy of a situation that would otherwise be lost amid the paragraphs of explanation. Poetry should be a direct pull to the senses or emotions. Isn’t that what we writers want our readers to feel?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest poetry reader in the world. I grew up with the misguided idea that poetry was either long lines of rhyming verse, like The Raven by Poe, or it was totally nonsensical like Dr. Seuss. Even when I had to do poetry writing as a part of my first creative writing class in college, I was too hung up with rhyme schemes to really appreciate what poetry could offer. It wasn’t until I went to university and had to take a poetry writing class (10 weeks of poems, I thought I was going to die when I signed up for it) that I really dove in and began to understand what poetry could do for my writing. It was a liberating moment when I discovered that not all poetry rhymes.

That poetry class had me looking hard at the importance of words. It can be agony to find just the right word to fit the meaning you wish to convey in a poem without upsetting the tempo. I realized that it can be true in prose as well. All those emotional scenes where I wanted my readers to feel something specific – here was the tool I’d been previously lacking to evoke those emotions. If nothing else, that class helped me with writing those scenes in my own novels. By the end, I wasn’t too bad at writing poetry either. (As proof, one of my poems was selected to print in the college magazine.)

Below is one of the poems I wrote during that class. It’s not the one that appeared in the magazine, but I chose this to show that there are even poem styles that read more like prose (for those of you who, like me, wince a little when you see verse lines). Enjoy!

Conversation with a Photo of Strangers

 He bends over you from behind, kissing your naked shoulder. Only the top of his head is visible. What were you feeling? The wind passing by to caress the leaves – the faded linen blanket spread out beneath you – the brush of his lips on your skin, silent devotion?

Your eyes focus beyond the lens, fog gray, half closed; twin windows into your still frame soul. What did you see? The vivid blurs of children at play – the flock of Yeats’ swans on the lake – a transparent, transposed moment where there is nothing but you and your lover?

Your mouth is parted like a door left ajar, an exhale of life, a pause in conversation. What were you speaking of? I love picnics – the wind breathes like a poem with no words – my lover’s touch soothes and shines like the guiding star?

Is that love caught on film cool and placid like a lazy summer picnic? Or is it hot like a pontil of molten glass, burning, shimmering, melding mundane elements into something beautiful? Does it burn still?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nkeda14
    Jun 14, 2011 @ 22:27:16

    Thanks for the link!

    O.o gee… i really like that poem! It has good rythm, but an even better story 😀

    Really liked the last stanza!


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