Here is this week's blog entry for the "Write a Book in a Year" club. The club is going well still. We always have over twenty kids come to our weekly meetings, although they are starting to sound like some of the less functional writing groups I've belonged to (lots of excuses for why they haven't written anything on their large projects since the last meeting). Still, they're thinking, talking and celebrating writing. I can't beat that for a voluntary activity at an American public high school!
I've always suggested that anyone interested in writing any kind of prose, whether it is a short story, essay, novel or play, should write poetry first (or too).
What we learn from poetry is how to be concise, how to communicate through imagery and figurative language, how to use rhythm to serve meaning, and how to be explosive.
Why explosive? If your writing doesn't set off some kind of explosion in the reader, why are you writing at all? Emily Dickinson said, "Poetry is a disturbance in the reader's head or solar plexus . . . If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?"
Poetry reveals all of your writerly flaws immediately. If you rely on cliches, you'll see them isolated in lines. If your writing is flabby and weak, overusing linking verbs and empty modifiers, a good rereading of your poem will point them out.
Think of the power and punch of a good poem. Wouldn't you want your 5,000 word story to have at least the impact of a fourteen-line sonnet?
You'll have a chance if you start with poetry first.
Since I already brought up Emily Dickinson, I should let her have the last word. Here's a quote that my elementary school librarian kept on her bulletin board. She used bright red felt letters, and it was the first thing I'd see when I walked in.
There is no Frigate like a book to take us lands away nor any coursers like a page of prancing Poetry.