In between some fiction writing and my usual blogging/guest-article writing, I’ve written some poems recently, which got me thinking: Prose writers, listen to me, your writing will improve (I promise) if you read poetry. And if you write it, it’s guaranteed. And now I’m thinking I really need to offer a class called Poetry for Prose Writers. Hmm…
When you write poetry, you must obsess over your word choices. Not just for meaning, but for sound and rhythm. You become attuned to the way a three-syllable word might clunk in the way its two-syllable synonym doesn’t. Poetry forces you to strip out flab of the sort that often gets left behind in prose.
Do you want your novel to read like a poem? Generally no. But poetry-training is serious word-training. And when you’ve trained your ear to appreciate the sounds in a line, the way words can string together for effect, the way a single word can pop at the end of a sentence, you will naturally bring that sort of *taste* to your prose.
There are certain books of poetry I’ve turned to over the years, not only for how I learn something about writing when I read them, but for the sheer enjoyment of it.
So, until my Poetry for Prose Writers class happens, here are some book recommendations along with some first lines from one of their poems to entice you. Nothing avant-garde here. To use an overused word, I’d call these poets and their poems “accessible.”
Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser
from “A Spiral Notebook”
The bright wire rolls like a porpoise
in and out of the bright blue sea
Bright Dead Things, by Ada Limón
from “In the Country of Resurrection”
Last night we killed a possum,
out of mercy, in the middle of the road.
Swallowing the Soap, by William Kloefkorn
from “Taking the Milk to Grandmother”
Not the milk, but the color of milk:
first snow unblemished in a bottle
Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon
from “Evening at a Country Inn”
From here I see a single red cloud
impaled on the Town Hall weather vane.
Facts About the Moon, by Dorianne Laux
from “Laundry and Cigarettes”
This tourist ashtray is faux porcelain, creamy white
gold-plated ridges molded into the four curved corners
Strike Sparks, by Sharon Olds
from “First Formal”
She rises up above the strapless, her dewy
flesh like a soul half out of a body.
the city in which I love you, by Li-Young Lee
from “For a New Citizen of These United States”
Forgive me for thinking I saw
the irregular postage stamp of death;