Fellow author Brantwjin Serrah is passionate about the value of deepening the understanding and appreciation of poetry: for itself, but also for how it informs prose-writing. Recently, she wrote an insightful article on this topic, featuring fragments of two of my poems, among others. In the article, she declares that:
…learning to read poetry is equally as important to learning to write it.
Upon reading it, I felt it made such an intelligent argument for the value of poetry, that with her permission, I’m re-printing excerpts of it here. I’ve written poetry from a very early age, winning first prizes for poems when I was 11, then 12, as well as studying it intensively through drama and theatre training. Writing poetry is something I can’t seem to help, so I have felt it was important in the past to gain some study of the actual craft.
Personally, I’m drawn to the form primarily because of these two elements: its many plays and permutations of rhythm, and its insistence on finding new, and evocative ways to express things felt and observed. You see, I’ve always loved dancing and disliked cliches.
After writing Talking Shop: Poetry as a Tool for Better Writing, Brantwjin also felt sufficiently interested in my erotic poem Threshold to feature an “unpacking” of the poem in her “Reading Diary”. This is the first time anyone has analysed one of my poems (that I’m aware of), so it was a slightly nerve-wracking experience, waiting to hear what she saw in my poem! However, reading the analysis was intriguing, and I’m relieved to see that much of what I wished to convey is apparent to the reader (this reader at least). I’m also delighted to hear that some elements are more open to interpretation than I had initially thought. (More than two players in the erotic encounter, really? Wonderful!) In this way, the poem can mean different things to different readers; they can insert themselves and their own narratives of desire into the poem. I believe this is one of the aims any well-crafted writing can hope to achieve.
So, please read on to hear more of Brantwjin’s keen observations on the craft of poetry, and the benefits of reading and writing it:
“Even if it isn’t your preferred genre, what you learn from poetic composition translates into your prose just as well. Elements of poetry, especially poetic device, sharpen your awareness of your literary voice and the way we shape things to be heard by our readers.
One of my personal favorite lessons from poetry is the use of rhythm and meter. I think it’s a mistake to believe poetry and songwriting are one and the same, but there’s definitely an element of music in poetic composition that translates well into prose writing.
When training yourself to write in rhythm and meter, you become more attuned to the way your sentences and dialogue sound to the ear. Bringing this musical quality to your writing can help you make efficient and more striking use of words and syllables. One element in my writing I’m proud of is my ability to create good back-and-forth dialogue when it is called for, and I have to say an ear for rhythm makes all the difference. It makes for some especially memorable one-liners: something which slips smoothly into a reader’s brain and frames itself to be easily recalled. You can make things snappy and impactful with good use of efficient meter, or you can create naturally flowing, unfolding imagery which builds upon itself in a crafty, skillful way. Meter and rhythm are very good for finding and accentuating your pacing, directing reader attention or immersing them in a relaxing image.
Meter and rhythm are very good for finding and accentuating your pacing, directing reader attention or immersing them in a relaxing image.
Rhythm and meter are not the same as syllable count or rhyme scheme, which many poetic forms require. Rhythm and meter, though, exist and are utilized in all forms of poetry, whether rhyming or free-form, structured or open. Consider this: when you have a well-honed sense of rhythm, you exert some control over the speed and influence of what your reader experiences. Rhythm is all about beat, stress and unstress (or, as I like to think, de-stress). Using a rhythm with short, strong beats increases pacing, makes a scene or description faster. What you choose to stress gets attention; what you leave unstressed gives the reader a breath between beats. This all breaks down to the very syllable, which works for me in scenes or sentences I want to give supreme impact, or it stretches things out to give the reader’s brain a place to rest and take it all in.
This is how poetic structure strengthens your skill in prose narrative. It provides deeper understanding of how you build with words. It gives you a sense of architecture in art.
Learning to read and write poetry also makes you aware of the ways in which we most effectively use metaphor, imagery, and sensory detail. In many cases, and especially in early or beginner poetic study, you’re taught to express your meaning in a more confined space than you may be used to in prose. This means learning to say more with less. The skill may not be precisely necessary later on in fiction, but it is valuable.”
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To read the whole of Brantwjin’s excellent article, head this way, please.
To see how she unpacks Threshold, and to see how this kind of thinking can be applied to any poetry( or, by extension, prose) to understand it on a deeper level, follow me. This level of understanding also allows a writer to be able to employ these elements in their own writing – with a little practice.
I’ll also be compiling a list of poets and books of poetry that have moved and inspired me throughout my life, to add to the bottom of this article.
If, as Buddhists and modern spiritual thinking believe, what we focus on in this life in any way influences what is manifested, then we could certainly do with less focus on war and stressful issues, and more focus on poetry.