I am convinced that one of the best, most fun, and most satisfying ways to become a better writer is to read a lot of poetry. Why? Poetry stretches the imagination, plays with rhythm, and meanders this way and that. To be a good writer, one that is distinctive and creative, one that presents facts or ideas in a clever, interesting way, one must learn to “play” with words. And there’s no better playground than poetry.
Natalie Goldberg said in Writing Down The Bones (p. 51) “If you read a great poem aloud —for example — “To A Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley — and read it the way he set it up and punctuated it, with you are doing is breathing his inspired breath at the moment he wrote that poem. That breath was so powerful it still can be awakened in us over 150 years later. Taking it on is very exhilarating. This is why its good to remember: if you want to get high, don’t drink whiskey; read Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats, Neruda, Hopkins, Millay, Whitman, aloud and let your body sing.”
If you have a great poem in your hands, it is like holding a living creature, an orchid, perhaps, or a butterfly, or maybe even a sparrow, or a scorpion. Good poetry is meant for us to slow down and examine. It’s meant for us to appreciate nuance, to listen in a way that we haven’t before. My favorite poetry resource is The Poetry Foundation. Their website and their podcasts are wonderful.
The first paragraph of this post is informational and sort of persuasive. Along with the millions of other blog posts out there, it doesn’t say anything special. It’s meant to persuade you to take action for the sake of good writing, but the words themselves are mostly utilitarian and dull.
But if I wrote the information as a poem, it would be different. I would take the same points of persuasion and choose phrases that were emotional. Perhaps I would make a charming comparison: this paragraph is like a squirrel. (Hopefully, that would get your attention!) I could bring in memories, images, and references that would take your mind from the persuasive paragraph to something altogether different. Given, a paragraph in a blog and poem have two different purposes, one is practical and one is imaginative, but I think that even in my persuasiveness, I could be more creative. If you’re having fun with my image of a squirrel, and you appreciate the care I took to sculpt the words together in such a way that your attention is captured, my persuasive argument doesn’t matter. I have touched you in a new way.
Poetry allows the reader to play with words in a fresh way. The more we play, the freer our mind is, the more creative we become.
So read more poetry. Write about it. Try your hand at it. You never know how it can change you as a writer.