April is Poetry Month

imagePlease refrain from rolling your eyes. Yes, I’m going to talk about poetry on my fiction blog again.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again. We fiction writers can learn quite a bit from poetry. So in honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d take a quick look at how poetry can better shape our fiction. Also, I’m going to throw down a challenge (don’t worry, nothing as crazy as Writer’s Digest’s “Poem A Day” challenge).

WORDS MATTER: Stephen King insists that you should make no effort to expand your vocabulary (by any means other than reading, and reading a lot). That is to say, he’d probably advise you not to buy that Word of the Day calendar at the mall, or to subscribe to Dictionary.com’s similar service. While I’m guilty of doing both, I think he makes a good point: If you include words just because they’re big and sound cool and make you look smart, you may want to consider revising the word to something more approachable to your audience. The issue, as we can see in poetry, is that not all words are created equal. And while some multi-syllabic marvels may look great on paper, they may not sound great in the ear. Worse, they trip the reader up, slow them down, and break the illusion we’re trying to relate. Hard to be fully invested in our poems or fiction if we’ve got to check the dictionary every other paragraph. Instead, find the right word. More often than not, the right word is the one you think of first. Poetry teaches us the same idea. The right word is often times the easiest, most approachable word.

SOUNDS MATTER: One thing the right words have in common is the proper sounds. I remember once, when writing a poem, I used the word rock. My friend suggested I change it to stone. Same thing, but different sounds. The “ck” gives rock a harsher sound, where the “one” is much softer, easier to say. When trying to emphasize beauty, softer words carry more weight. However, if you’re writing a violent scene, one where another man attacks another with a rock, rock is the right word. You want the harsher “ck” sound. The sound of the words does help create tension and ease. Use them mindfully.

RHYTHM MATTERS: When you get to the point where you’re counting syllables, you know you’re on the right track. Meter, something often employed only in poetry, can be a powerful tool, especially when you slow the action down. Meter can help a slow scene move more fluidly. It can also slow down a scene rife with action. The result is a dichotomy that will resonate with the reader, even if they’re not aware of it. If you don’t know much about meter and rhythm, take a moment to check it out at poets.org

POEM A WEEK CHALLENGE—My students generally have a distaste for poetry. Then, after we go through several exercises where they read good poetry, and we break it down together, and they write their own, they learn that they actually do enjoy poetry. Perhaps you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’ve avoided poetry your whole life because you don’t understand it, and you find it boring. I challenge you to spend time over at poets.org, learn a few forms (sonnet, villanelle, rondeau, sestina maybe) that you’re unfamiliar with. Then, read several examples of each, and try penning your own. I’ll give you this whole month to come up with them. They don’t have to be good (few first poems seldom are). But perhaps you’ve a practiced hand in the art of poetry, or maybe you have a stroke of genius and pen an incredible poem. Post it here, in the comments. Also, maybe tell us what form it is and a little about the process of writing it. I also find that poetry can be about nearly anything. It is not confined simply to tales of love and loss. Try to think of a unique topic, one not often written about in verse. Sometimes that in itself is enough to get your poetic juices flowing. We’d love to see your work! Until then, good writing!

12 Comments on April is Poetry Month

  1. Cameron Rohskothen | April 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    I have to admit, I do hate writing poetry in class eventhough some of my past teachers have said that I am not a bad poetry writer. Still, poetry is hard to write compared to a normal fictional story because of the special attention to rhythm. The hardest thing about writing poetry is keeping the consistent catchy rhythm, this is the same problem that I have when trying to write lyrics to a song. Hopefully I can improve on my poetry to some extent, but I would still like to focus on stories.

  2. You people hate poetry? Tsk, tsk. Poor children. I have actually loved poetry for a few years now, and it has become an excellent weapon in my arsenal against the dreaded Writer’s Block.
    Guess what? You know your favorite song in the world? The one with that awesome artist you really like and the lyrics that make your day brighter every single time? Look at the lyrics without the music. It’s a poem. That’s all a song is: poetry set to music. If you find yourself in a poetic spiderweb, bust out a melody and see where the song wants to go–that’s where the poem wants to go!
    So, Lord Ganksy, you want a poem? Here is one of mine that I wrote a while back. And before you ask, yes, it is in fact based off a character from my novel. Without further ado, I present… “The Fallen Snow”.

    A wandering phantom dressed in white
    A shadow in the mist
    His sword is cold like Death’s cruel bite
    There’s murder in his fist.

    He moves gracefully like the sea
    His hair’s as dark as ink
    His iron will shall ever be
    As hopeful hearts will sink.

    His eyes shine bright to light his path
    He hides his face in shame
    He smites us all with icy wrath
    To him it is all a game.

    His name, he claims, is no import
    His voice is a serpent’s hiss
    He’s here to put us to the sword
    His sole purpose is this.

    His long, black hair catches the wind
    He’s pale like the white he wears
    He punishes those who have sinned
    The living world despairs.

    And yet he is calm and serene
    Though shunned, accursed, and placid
    His senses, they are wicked keen
    And his touch does burn like acid.

    A ragged scarf wraps around him
    It’s a ghastly, bloody red
    He path he walks is lonely and grim
    He is less alive than dead.

    Finally he turns his blade
    Upon his own beating chest
    In death he silently fades
    To eternal peaceful rest.

    And so he will be forgetten
    As legends often are
    Until he returns once again
    And leaves Hell’s iron gates ajar.

    Well, there you go. I realize it’s not exactly brilliant, in my defense I wrote it in twenty minutes. As usual with my work, any kind of comment or constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated!

  3. Alyssa Varney | April 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply

    When you write poetry you can write about anything you feel like writing about. When I write poetry I love to write about falling in love and how in some cases it doesn’t work out. When I get bored I write either short stories and even poetry. Sometimes in class I can’t think what to write about so I don’t like it as much as if I was at home by myself. When I write poetry I usually don’t rhyme words together.

  4. Ashley Lopez Rivera | April 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply

    well, i actually like writing poetry… its pretty fun… it just comes to me. I’m not the best poetry writer there is, and I have written some in the do nows, so i kind of have experience writing poetry…… i like my poetry the most because i can understand it. if i read others’ poems, and they have it all symbolic, its kind of hard to understand. so yea. randomness.

  5. Brandy Placeres Per.6 | April 15, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply

    I like reading poetry, writing it isn’t as fun. But after several attempts and you finally get it right, it’s the best feeling ever! I have tried to use a word that I just learned in a poem or story because it “makes you look smarter”. It doesn’t really work, almost comes out forced, I guess. Defiantly going to rethink using the next “big” word I find.

  6. Whitney Dunn | April 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply

    I LOVE WRITING POETRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is so fun and easy to do. It’s full of free express. It just comes so natural. There are many different types of poems. Not all of them have to have pattern or rhythm. Free verse poems are my favorite. At the drop of a hat a can write a poem. Some are more meaningful than others, but some stories are also more meaningful than others. Love/ romance poems are the ones I am best at. Gansky bring on poetry month.

  7. John Powderly | April 16, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply

    Poetry seems a lot easier than writing an actual story. Mainly because it can go in any way that you want it to if you’re writing free verse and it doesn’t even need a plot or anything. The only real downside to poetry is that you have to watch for rhyme schemes.

  8. Poetryis amazing once you absolutely have master the actual art of writing it! I personally don’t think its for everyone.! i love to write it but most of the time im kinda not to sure about it….since i dont really care to follow a certin way of writting it.

  9. Darryl_Sanderson | April 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply

    I like to read poetry but I have never been very good at writing it. When it comes to poetry I’m always stumped and don’t know what to do next. I feel like poetry just isnt me.

  10. Brittany Walters | April 24, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply

    I think poetry is fun to write, but I do get frustrated with it at times. It’s fun to write it on your own but when it’s an assignment i don’t really like to write poetry. Especially if the teacher is telling you what to write about, and what to do in it.

  11. Dustin Garza | April 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply

    i agree that if your going to write poetry you need to use different visualizations so your reader can understand what you’re talking about and get a feel of how the character is. But i think using to many big words and visualizations can overwhelm the reader and make them disinterested in your writings.

  12. alexandria heins | May 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply

    I do not enjoy writing poetry. It seems to be that no one really enjoys poetry the same way as the next person. The words mean different things to people, and people connect the lines differently. I enjoy a O! Captain My Captain, and The Raven, and of course a few sections from Leaves of Grass are beyond beautiful (A Woman Waits for Me, Eidolons, I Sit and Look Out, and Beautiful Women). But poetry can be misunderstood, and warped and that is what I do not enjoy about poetry, seeing people misunderstand the feelings.

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