This week I’m letting it all hang out and publishing a poem. I’m exposed here since I don’t consider myself a poet. But as a prose writer I think poetry is a great exercise. It helps you play with tropes, which will make your writing more engaging and colorful. Most prose writers just don’t do it. It’s hard.
A few have done it well, such as, surprisingly, John Cheever. Barbara Kingsolver also has some lovely phrases. And Lauren Oliver will make you dizzy, her metaphors come at you so quickly.
I always carry around a copy of my favorite modern poet, Sylvia Plath’s, work. She was the ultimate master of figures of speech I think. And ‘poet speak’ is unusual. When deconstructed the phrases make absolutely no objective sense. And yet the reader immediately understands what the poet is trying to say. In my new poem, ‘Bittersweet,’ I speak of memories as ‘ghosts’, then ‘bits of chocolate’.
Plath has a marvelous simile where she speaks of a babies’ cries rising ‘like bright balloons’. Crazy but we immediately get it. The language resonates and amplifies by conjuring up a picture, which is as we all know worth a thousand words!
Poetry also focuses the mind. Of course a poem does not require the time to produce that a novel does. But there may be even more effort in getting the damned thing to hatch. And it performs the same function, as an exercise, which a short story will do for a novelist. It requires economy.
So if you want to write, begin with a poem. It doesn’t have to be the Iliad. Play with it. Put it away for a bit and let it cook in your brain. Poetry will make you a better prose writer.