How many of you write poetry? Raise your hands.
I thought so.
Well, if you are convinced that poetry is not your thing, think again. Even if you have no desire to be a published poet, you ought to try writing some. Why?
* Writing poetry can be a great way to warm up your writing skills like a singer warms up her voice. By the time you finish a poem, your muse is engaged and ready to tackle the main writing of the day.
* Poetry forces you to be concise, to leave out unnecessary words and search for exactly the right words. If, like me, you tend to be too wordy in your prose, it can help you streamline your writing.
* Poetry uses images, such as metaphors and similes, that can also enhance your prose.
* To write a good poem that says a lot in a few lines, you must figure out what you’re trying to say, another good skill for prose writers.
* A poem can become an outline or a Cliff Notes version of the longer story you want to tell in prose.
* Poetry forces you to slooooow down and ponder each word, something we don’t always take the time to do when writing prose.
* Writing poetry is fun, especially if you’re not worrying about where you can get your poems published.
* Poets are very, very cool.
If you haven’t looked at poetry in a while, read what some modern poets are doing. Today’s poem does not have to rhyme or fit into a complicated form, although it still can.
It’s true that there’s no money in poetry and most of our friends and relatives never touch the stuff, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Poems convey a thought, a feeling or an experience in a few words, just like Twitter, without the hashtags. Try it.
Here are four books and a website to help you get started.
The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Wooldridge
The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward
Now go write.
You non-poets, stick around. This will work for you, too.
I’m not a great reviser of my poetry. I tend to throw lines on a page and consider it done. If it works, it works. But last week a prompt from Poets & Writers gave me a way to make an okay poem much better. The prompt was to take two favorite lines from a poem that needs revision and write a villanelle. Now, a villanelle is a form in which you write five three-line stanzas and end with a four-line stanza. What makes it tricky is that you are supposed to repeat the first line at the end of the second and fourth stanzas and the third line at the end of the third and fifth stanzas, then repeat them both as the last two lines of the ending quatrain. Confused yet? There’s more. The first and third lines of each stanza should rhyme while the second lines all rhyme with each other. Ready to give up? I hear you. For a great explanation and examples of villanelles, click on http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796.
But wait, you don’t have to write a villanelle. In this exercise, the villanelle is just a tool, like grabbing a different screwdriver from the toolbox. And you have choices. In my revision, I didn’t do the rhymes, just the repetitions, and I liked what I got. Using the villanelle form forced me to think a little harder about what I was trying to say and to choose lines that said it better. However the repetitions became too . . . repetitious. So . . . I started a whole new poem, using the best of the villanelle, with fewer repetitions, and now I really like my poem. It took a while, I got a little sunburned because I was working out on the deck, but now I get it. Keeping only the best of the poem, cutting and adding until all the lines are good, I think I finally am saying what I was trying to say.
They’re only words, friends, tools to express an idea or a feeling. If the words aren’t quite right, reach into the toolbox for other words. You can always save the rejected lines for another poem. If you insist on keeping only the words from that first blast of inspiration, it’s like trying to tighten the screws on a bookshelf with a flathead screwdriver when what you really need is a Phillips-head. You’ll never get it tight, and it will always wobble.
Now go write.
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work. If you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section.
Are you finding that grammar is a mystery? Why do people keep adding commas to your manuscripts? What’s the deal with lay and lie? Find help from grammar guru Mignon Fogarty at Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She also has a Grammar Girl book by the same title.
The Poet’s Companion: a Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorriane Laux. It’s got everything from getting started to getting published, including lots of poems to read and lots of writing exercises to try.
Rewrite a fairy tale. They’re doing it on TV and in books. You can, too. Start with your favorite fairy tale or myth, give it a modern setting with modern problems and a new point of view and see what happens. You can do this with current stories, too, but you’ll need to make it a totally new story to avoid copyright problems.