As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t written fiction or worked on fiction in a long time, although I’m okay with that. What writing I have been working on is poetry.
There are a few things I have discovered about poetry as I started writing my “sonnets from the desert,” as I eventually decided to name them. I discovered that poetry can teach a fiction writer many things.
I clung at first to the truth that my poetry was for me and that I was under no obligation to share it with anyone else. And believe me, I needed that reminder, regularly, to allow myself to be raw and real in my sonnets. With prayer and reflection I did decide to publish them on a new blog and am rolling them out little by little, but that is no requirement for a poet. Poetry does not need to be shared with anyone else if you prefer to keep it private. And certainly, it does not need to be public in order for it to help you develop as a fiction writer.
That said, here are four reasons a fiction writer should consider writing poetry.
- IT CAN TEACH YOU TO PLAY WITH LANGUAGE. Fiction is all about telling a story, and much about successful fiction (not all, of course) depends on clarity. Even when a fiction writer desires to leave something in obscurity, it must be clear to the reader that such and such a point is left in obscurity intentionally. Poetry is much more playful: it is as much about sound, about rhythm, about connotation and symbol and pure images, as it as about making a point or expressing emotion. That playful element of language can transfer to some degree to fiction authentically and naturally, if we cultivate it, and enhance our fiction in a way like nothing else. (In addition, that playfulness is not only fun, it is cathartic, and it offers a peaceful, calming element to tranquilize the terror that can come at first from baring your soul in poetry).
- IT CAN TEACH YOU TO OPEN YOURSELF UP. This, at least, was the case for me. My poetry has been a medium to explore the ups and downs of a spiritual journey with Christ that I began two and a half years ago, a medium to process the momentous changes that I have been undergoing internally. My poetry has helped me make peace with my past, to examine what lies at the root of my fears and my hopes for the future, and to accept the challenge to learn to live intentionally in today. I do believe that fiction can also be therapeutic in its way, but in my experience, fiction possesses a depersonalizing, exteriorizing element by its very nature. (At least, that holds true for my sword and sorcery fantasy and my style of third person narration). In poetry I found that element removed, and I hope that having embraced that new lack of separation and jumped “into the deep end,” after writing poetry that is so personal, I will be better able to let my past experiences, including past pain and struggle, contribute to any fiction I write later on.
- YOU CAN EXPERIMENT WITH A NEW AND DIFFERENT STYLE. What do I mean by this? I mean that when we write fiction, we tend to be more or less rigid in our approach to story, sentence, and paragraph structure. One thing I love about poetry is that you have so many different types of poetry to pick from. Suppose you write fast and loose and don’t pay much thought to structure in a first draft, and you would like to become more intentional about structure. Writing something like sonnets, with a required meter and rhyme scheme, will certainly develop that attention to structure. In contrast, suppose you want to become more comfortable breaking the “rules” in order to more freely express yourself in your fiction. Writing free verse poetry can help with that.
- YOU CAN FURTHER DEVELOP THE STRENGTHS OF THE STYLE YOU PREFER. In other words, if you want to focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses, you can also do that through poetry. If like me, you tend toward appreciating a structured, deliberate style in writing and want to become more intentional in your structure, you can write something like sonnets or villanelles to stretch the muscles you already have and practice balancing not only the content you want, but providing that content in a way that flows pleasantly. This balancing act required in some poetic forms will improve your fiction as well, to be sure!
Somehow, I’ve come to feel that poetry is maybe more elemental to the soul than fiction. I’m not swearing by that, because story is certainly elemental to humanity (and of course, narrative poetry is a thing). Still, it seems to me that the heart of lyric poetry—emotion, language at its most basic level, a succession of simple images—consists of very fundamental things in human life. Perhaps I mean to say that the emotion, images, and elemental language at the heart of lyric poetry, developed further, become the building blocks of plot/story.
Do you write poetry? What other benefits have you found to benefit? How have you found that poetry enhances your ability to craft fiction? Feel free to comment if you’d like to share your thoughts!