29 March 2011

Using Words Well: What Writers Can Learn From Poetry

So you write fiction novels. You write scifi. You write chick lit. You write fantasy.

So you write non-fiction novels.

So you write news articles. You write hard journalism. You write for radio.

You can learn something from poetry.

Poetry is visual. It is a photograph in time. Just a snapshot.

Here's a great example of this by William Carlos Williams.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


William Carlos Williams used 16 words in that poem to create that great visual. He described the whole scene.

Here's another of my favorites that is a great example of visual imagery in poetry, this time by Robert Frost.

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

What I really appreciate about both of these poems is that they are both (1) brief and (2) effective in projecting their image. Do you see the red wheelbarrow? The white chickens? Do you see a crow shaking a snow-dusted hemlock branch?

No matter what kind of writer you are, you can learn something from poetry. We can all use our words better. We can capture a moment in time. And can I point out that both of those poems were each ONE SENTENCE LONG. Imagine what we could do with our stories if each sentence packed the punch of a poem.

One of my old attempts at capturing images and other sensory input in a poem:
Not my best work. I just wanted a picture to throw in here.

Now You!
Do any poems inspire you in your writing? Toss a link in the comments! Have you written any poems trying to  express an image? (Link in the comments!) What else can we learn from poetry?

Some Other Poems I Like for Imagery:
Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost (Yes, I'm a HUGE Frost fan.)