When I took the single creative writing course my high school offered, it was a one-semester elective with a poetry unit and a fiction unit. I was a senior, and I knew the teacher from when he’d started a creative writing group at the junior high four years earlier, when I was in eighth grade.
I don’t recall everything we did during the poetry unit, but I do remember a couple of specific instances. While I wrote an apparently good poem about my dad getting stung by a stingray (which has unfortunately been lost to the annals of time and floppy disks), overall, I was not a great poet, so “not great” that our teacher once told me, “It’s a good thing you prefer writing fiction.”
Now, lest you think this teacher was brutal or unnecessarily harsh on a teenager, I assure you, he was one of my biggest cheerleaders. A writer himself, he saw the same dream in me and nurtured it, and I look forward to mentioning him one day in the acknowledgements pages of my first novel.
Anyhow, back to poetry. Maybe I was never great at it because I never felt drawn to it, not to write or to read. But I’m learning that, whether I’m a “good” poet or not, writing lyrical prose is its own form of poetry.
First off, I’m obsessed with literary devices like internal rhyming, alliteration, assonance, and consonance. I listen in wonder to Hamilton because the lyrics are chock full of them, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s word-genius never ceases to astound me. Same is true for country singer-songwriter Phil Vassar. He knows how to arrange the words in just the right way to make them both memorable and pleasing to the ear. I try to do this as often as possible in my own writing, and perhaps it’s why my favorite stage of editing is when I get to make the language “pretty.”
Second, and speaking of pretty language, fitting words into a certain lilt and rhythm makes a narrative better. I’ve recently gotten involved with a writing group of people I “met” on Twitter, and as an exercise, we wrote a limerick and a haiku. Since then, I’ve found myself composing haiku poems all the time. It forces me to be selective and succinct, which is excellent practice for writing fiction. Here are a couple of my favorites:
A broken heart can’t
Be healed with medication,
If it heals at all.
But when you let her
Talk about books, watch her face
Light up like the sun.
Unwrap these into normal prose, and they still sound lovely. Conversely, I also like to test how lyrical my writing is by taking a paragraph or a few lines and rearranging them into a poem. It’s actually pretty fun, and pretty surprising how well it can work.
So I think I’ll be trying my hand at some more poetry. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it will most likely improve my prose, so really, there’s nothing to lose, even if people continue to assure me it’s a good thing I prefer writing fiction.
Truth be told, I probably always will.