Writing Poetry

What is "poetry", anyway?

Writing poetry is about telling a story. The first and most important thing to understand about poetry is that it's not a genre but rather a style of storytelling. But to understand its form and purpose we must have something to compare it to. See datums of comparable magnitude to understand this invaluable concept.

The opposite of Poetic is Prosaic.

Hence, we have an example of gradient scales with "poetic" at one extreme and "prosaic" at the other:

Poetic <--------------> Prosaic

"Writing Poetry" then is a very compressed form of storytelling with each word or phrase carrying a great deal of meaning.

While "Prosaic" is just the opposite; lots of words and little meaning. Prosaic also implies the use of very mundane language whereas poetic would imply the use of very colorful and non-ordinary language.

The main point though is that poetry is a compressed form of storytelling. Compression in this sense doesn't mean that poems must be "short" as we'll soon see. Compression in this sense refers to the fact that a lot of meaning is packed into each word or phrase; as apposed to a lot of words being used to express one or two simple meanings as we get with "prosaic".

The most compressed form of writing poetry is probably the Japanese haiku.

Haiku - a form of Japanese poetry with 17 syllables in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, often describing nature or a season.

Although that vapid definition addresses form it says little about purpose.

On the other end of the spectrum from haiku one finds the epic poems. As demonstrated in the the works of writers such as Homer ca. 8th century B.C. said to be the author of the epic poems the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey". Moving forward in time we have Geoffrey Chaucer author of "The Canterbury Tails" written at the end of the 14 century.

And more recently the American author, Alan Ginsberg who wrote his epic poem "Howl" in 1955 which opens with these memorable lines:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix..."

What about all the rhyme and meter stuff that is "supposed" to define writing poetry?

First we must understand that all storytelling is rooted in an oral tradition reaching back before recorded time.

All stories, until very recently, relied on oral storytellers to achieve any level or popularity. So, if you’re a storyteller (who has to memorize dozens or hundreds of lines of a story) wouldn't it be easier if you used rhyming and rhythm - of course. Writing Poetry

So, that's the purpose of all the rhyme and meter stuff. Nothing else to it - it's just a convenience contrived for the benefit of the storyteller and it can add a little extra to the story. But the purpose of rhyme and meter was to make the story easier to memorize. Then of course you have certain storytellers who get into showing how clever they can be by constructing elaborate patterns while still telling a good story well - but the story is the most important thing.

And the purpose of telling a story is to make a point. Writing Poetry

The rhyme, meter and rhythm must support the story. Otherwise you just have the music of the human voice but no message, no point - and without that it's no longer a "story".

Here is the point of this article.

Poetry is the Mount Everest of storytelling not the training ground.

Writing Poetry

With the purpose of storytelling being the creation of an emotional and intellectual experience in the mind and heart of the audience - poetry is charged with accomplishing this with an absolute minimum of words.

We would then have a gradient scale something like this.

Novel <------- Short Story -------> Poem

Number of words:

Maximum <--------------------- > Minimum

Unfortunately, young people are often encouraged to take up "writing poetry" but without instruction in what constitutes "a story" so we wind up with lots of self absorbed, rambling, drippy, sentimental wordsmithing that lacks any point.

Of course, few people want to read that kind of stuff - so writing poetry as a form has been in a rapid state of decline for more than a hundred years. Writing Poetry

Writers would have to go back to the likes of Whitman, Poe, Robert Frost, and the like to reset their bearings on what good poetry is supposed to look like and accomplish for the reader - for the form to begin a resurgence in popularity.

Readers have lost interest in poetry because writers have lost their ability at writing poetry worth reading.

Write on...

Richard A. McCullough

The following are links to a small assortment of my poetry:

One thing that you should notice, in reading this cross section, is that each contains the core of a story either expressed or implied. And they are probably quite different from what you were taught to consider as "poetry".

Flowers for Mothers Day

55 Chevy

The Duchess

Gettin' Dizzy



Love Me Quick

My Children

Naked to Her Shame

Pin-Ball Player


The Red Robin


Seattle Sound Sunset

short series

Summer Runner

The Bridge

The Epitaph

The Train

The Wind

We Whisper

You can always write to me. Your comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.

© copyright 2011 - Richard A McCullough is the creator & editor of http://www.write-better-fiction.com the Fiction Writers source for Writing Better Fiction Faster and Selling More of What You Write.

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