“Poetry: the best words in the best order.”
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge
How does poetry help your prose? Why is poetry still important even though so few people buy it? Here’s why:
1. To paraphrase comedian Greg Proops: “Because George Bush and Dick Cheney. That’s why.” Poetry is a salve for our minds and times.
2. To take off on the Coleridge quote: Poetry is the least words in the best order. Capture a scene with fewer brush strokes and the reader will appreciate the efficiency of your storytelling.
3. From “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost:
And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.
To capture images with imaginative language that illuminates the scene in the reader’s mind, practice by reading and writing more poetry. So much prose is linear to the point of telegraphic minimalism. I love a spare writing style, too, but there’s room for art as long as the story remains unobscured. The point is not to make the reader work harder to see the picture you’re painting, but to grasp it all in a pleasing way. Many readers won’t notice how you’re doing it, but they’ll feel what you’re doing. Prose shows, true, but poetry engages.
4. I have a penchant for dark poetry. It’s fun and I found a way to integrate it into my zombie apocalypse. Sure that sounds insane, sure, but here’s what I did:
All the chapter titles in This Plague of Days make up a long, dark poem with clues to the plot. There’s a secret in This Plague of Days no one has yet guessed. I’ve offered to name characters after the first three people who guess right. So far, the secret remains undiscovered. (To see the entire poem for each season, you can find all the verses in the paperbacks. In the ebooks, search “Table of Contents”. If you care to guess, DM me on twitter @rchazzchute and keep the secret so Season 3 remains spoiler-free.) Here’s a piece:
We count every cost, each rueful day,
But knowing will not lessen the surprise
when you see the truth beneath the guise.
The puzzle is not Death, but Life Neverlasting.
The answer is under the stars and moon shadows casting
Light, revelation and fearful truth
The stuff of old age and disappointed youth.
In dreams we find the connection to what will last,
what won’t survive and what’s best left in the past.
~ from Season 2, Episode 2 of This Plague of Days
5. Read poetry for the pure love of language.
The more you read, the more sensitive you become to the sound of rhyme and the beat of meter. Power lies where the syllables fall and ring. Poetry doesn’t have to be dense, flowery or meaning-adjacent, communicating only by approximation. Poetry’s gift is in its precision. Poets choose their words carefully. Writers of prose can, and should, choose their words carefully, too. Do it right and even a grisly dismemberment can reach high lyricism.
6. Play with words because it’s fun. Unless you insist, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme.
Work it right and find the time
to light up your readers’ minds.
With a little poetry to your prose,
fans will love the words you chose.
7. Poetry doesn’t have to be dusty and academic.
Check out a poetry slam on YouTube sometime. You’ll see, hear and feel raw emotion communicating points and pictures. When I want to hear a modern poet who writes imaginative rhymes that fit together, tight and smooth as puzzle pieces, I listen to Eminem rap.
That’s the sort of poetry that still sells, but I love it all no less.
~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of a bunch of horror, a couple of crime novels (so far) and a lot of suspense. To check out all his books (many of which are on sale now, awaiting your anxious clicks and happy reviews), find them all here. For his podcasts, check out AllThatChazz.com and CoolPeoplePodcast.com. For more on This Plague Of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.