I have always positioned poets up on a pillar. Seriously. I admire them from far below, because as I’ve mentioned before, it takes me 80,000 words to get a story across and poets can do it in a few stanzas. If you question whether a poem can tell a story read the one I’ve posted over on the sidebar. Trust me, if you’re a writer the poem will haunt you with all the unknown back story and unsaid threads. I don’t understand poetry, I’ve failed at writing it, I know nothing about the types, styles, or whether something is a cinquain or a haiku. I still covet the ability to write them though.
I have two friends and one nephew who write amazing poetry. Their words transport me away not just to place, but to emotions. They can call up peace, melancholy, even deep homesickness when I’m sitting on my favorite chair at home. I study their words and take away this lesson that is self-evident but I need to repeat often. Every single word counts. And taking the effort to think about each word makes a significant difference.
When I’m in the throes of writing though, I can’t slow down to study each word. I speed along, caught up in the story, and worry about whether it’s the perfect word or phrase during editing. I imagine poets edit, too, but I have this idealized vision of them sitting alone, looking very much like a poet, and channeling beauty into the first draft. Makes me envious.
Poetry seems to me to be the very barest of bare bones of a story. So for a challenge, sometimes I take my novel and try to write the entire plot into a poem. I call it a free-style poem simply because I have no idea what I’m doing. The end result though, has been interesting. If I can surgically remove everything to end up with the poem/plot, suddenly what I am left holding is a synopsis. Definitely not poetry. But a synopsis that clarifies what I’m doing and makes me take a second look at all the subplots, making sure they are relevant and needed. Trying to think like a poet forces me to be ruthless with all the prose I think is so literary and perfect. Without fail I find that less is better.
Stephen King says something similar in his book On Writing. He says the final draft is the first draft minus ten percent. Heck, I think my final draft is the first draft minus fifty percent. Or even more. Some day I’ll learn to cut as I write. But I doubt I’ll ever get to the point of writing a poem.