I have always had a gut feeling that writing poetry is a precursor to writing well. Only recently, while preparing a poetry workshop for middle school students, did I realize how strongly I believe in the poetry connection.
During my kids’ baby and toddler years, I didn’t have the strength, time, or mental capacity (Mommy brain, anyone?) to write long pieces. I pushed writing to the very outer circle of my priorities, but somewhere in my youngest’s second year the need to write wiggled its way right into the center of my being. I jotted down ideas, struggles, joys, and observations in free verse. As I played with words, clapped rhythms, and rearranged sentences, within me, something awoke again. And it grew. It grew into picture books, and early readers, and novels.
Even all these years and manuscripts later, the poetry that called me from my writer’s slumber is still relevant. Because what we learn in writing and studying poetry, translates to every kind of writing.
What do we gain when we write poetry?
- The style and length parameters of poetry compel us to promptly find the heart of who we are in the moment, and what we want to express. The ability to dig for heart is essential in plotting and character development.
- Economic language use
- Writing within the limits of poetry, we learn that every word counts, so we’d better pick the right ones. Writing poetry hones our ability to recognize the right word.
- Writing poetry is an excuse to feel all the feels. Remember those angsty teenage poems in the back of your high school notebooks? (I refuse to believe I was the only one.) Pouring emotions onto a page in poetic form, allows writers to play with expression. What is too melodramatic? How and when do I turn the volume down? What happens to the impact of a piece when I turn the emotional volume down? Different characters express emotions on different levels. Have you written poetry from your characters’ point of view? It might help you narrow down their voice, or you might discover something about their emotional state.
- Unlocking imagination
- Even though poetry is constraining in form, thematically, anything goes. Writing down silliness or sometimes lyrical nonsense accesses a playfulness in the brain – that part that asks “What if?”
- Sensory awareness
- Because poetry leans heavily on sensory perception, when we write poetry we pay more attention with all our senses. We learn to think beyond sight and hearing. We learn to link emotion and atmosphere to senses.
- And since there is also no room to tell, we learn to show.
- Lyrical language
- Poetic devices translate to lyrical writing in prose.
I spent a big part of Monday writing limericks. I can’t remember when last I had so much fun. The silliness of it all, within the seriousness of the form. The absolute thrill of finding just the right rhyming words to deliver that guffaw in the last line. Playfulness unlocking imagination and humor. Play, play, play.
South African poet Carina Stander challenged herself in high school to write a new poem every second Sunday. She still does that. Ame Dyckman regularly tweets haiku-like observations. Kate DiCamillo often posts lyrical reflections on social media. Jane Yolen starts every work day by writing a poem. Considering their careers, I have to believe they're onto something. We need to shake this pressure that everything we write has to be for the book, or go in the book.
Will you explore the poetry connection with me? I’m challenging myself to produce a poem a week. Come join me. Our play has purpose.