We often fall into the trap of thinking poetry and prose are distinct forms of writing that cannot come together in the same piece. But there is so much that we can learn from each to strengthen and expand the creative scope of the other.
I often hear prose writers say that they don’t write poetry because they are intimidated or simply don’t know where to start, and I often hear poets say the same things about writing narrative fiction. This binary thinking limits what we can do with the styles of writing we are most comfortable with.
As someone who writes a lot of poetry, I have come to realize the positive influence this has had on my other longer fiction and nonfiction works. So, here’s my case for writing more poetry even if it is not your primary or preferred form of expression:
Incorporating poetry into your writing routines can positively influence the style and quality of the language of your prose. Writing poetry emphasizes word choice, rhythm, and vivid description. All of these elements that are so central to poetry are also important elements of narrative fiction. I find that because of this, poetry is both a form of creative self-expression and a practical exercise that helps to strengthen my writing generally.
Because poetry tends to be shorter and more succinct than prose, each word counts! Shorter lines with distinct line breaks and/or spacing draw attention to every element that the author chooses to include. Words are evaluated not only for their obvious meaning but for their sound and layers of interpretation.
Poets try to eliminate any unnecessary words and judge what really needs to be in each line. Practicing this sparing use of words by writing poetry can help us craft more intentional prose. We can ask ourselves what is truly necessary to include and what ultimately doesn’t serve the stories we are trying to tell.
While poetry does not need to have a set meter (and mostly doesn’t anymore), the rhythm of each line is nonetheless still important. Poets focus on the rhythmic flow of the poem—emphasizing the sound of each sentence, word, and syllable. Writing poetry can help us pay attention to the musicality of language which we can then use to add beauty and lyricism to our longer fiction and non-fiction prose.
Poetry uses description not only to set the scene and provide context but to add metaphorical and symbolic significance. While narrative fiction does this as well, it is very apparent in poetry because of the condensed format.
Poetry also focuses on vivid imagery and description as a starting place to build off of. An idea for a poem could be sparked by a striking image, event, or object that then makes its way into the poem through description. Practicing descriptive writing through poetry can help to strengthen the imagery that builds the worlds of our stories.
Poetry as Creative Outlet
While poetry can help to improve our writing, it can also provide a much-needed outlet to express what we cannot in our prose. Sometimes when I am working on a fiction or nonfiction piece, I’ll find that some digressions or emotional spin-offs arise that simply don’t fit into what I am writing. Instead of ignoring these impulses, I channel them into poetry.
While all writers work differently, much of my poems start as spontaneous bursts of emotion or scraps of descriptive language that I will quickly write down in notebooks or on my phone. Writing short stories and papers often inspires poetry. Poetry then creates space for further exploration of these ideas and emotions in another creative form.
Just Have Fun!
Most importantly, remember to have fun with writing. If you ever get stuck with a novel, story, essay, or article—try something new! There’s no downside to just playing around with language and the many forms it takes. You never know how one style or genre of writing can help with another. While here I have focused on how poetry can help prose, this can also be reversed. Writing long-form fiction can help to teach a poet about structure, voice, and creating a strong and focused narrative.
Even if you are not used to writing poetry or prose, and might be apprehensive to try it out, just remember that no one needs to read it. It doesn’t need to be good in order to be a useful exercise. You can never know what will happen until you try, and you might be pleasantly surprised!
About the Author: Abbey Bavaria is a poet and writer from Rockland County, New York. She recently graduated from college where she studied English Language and Literature. She completed a concentration in poetry and wrote a short collection for her senior capstone project.