These days, poetry and poets don’t get nearly the attention they once did. Unless they write the lyrics for songs, most poets are overlooked, and even then, they rarely get the credit and fame. Poetry doesn’t sell like it now, and many find themselves posting their poetry for free on the internet, just to share it with someone (and in the hopes that someone might want to buy a print-on-demand collection). However, I think all good writers need to pay attention to poetry, because it helps us write better description.
Description, whether of people or places, can often be the bane of writers’ work. Many readers frankly skip it, because its boring, interrupts the plot, and offers the reader little to compensate them for the mental effort of “picturing” what is being described. Poetry can help us in this, as I learned when I was forced to write some for a class in college.
Suddenly, I had to look at life poetically, considering the sounds, sights, smells, textures, and tastes. And I had to think of unique ways of sharing my experiences with others; descriptions usually aren’t unique in their subject matter, but they can become unique in the choice of words, in the connotations and rhythms used. But at the same time, they have to be short, like most poetry these days. They need to set the scene, just enough to give a flavor of location and mood, because it grounds the story for the readers. It needs to burst forth in vibrancy without taking much space on a page, so readers are already done with the description before they realize it, drawn in by the lure of the words.
Studying poetry—what artists with words do, and how they transmit a memory or image to us—can help us do that, and considering ourselves as poets when it’s time to write details can change how we look at the task. Instead of gunning our way through a laundry-list of details, we might focus on metaphor, comparison, word juxtaposition, and sound. If the description does nothing to us, chances are, it won’t do anything for the readers, either.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren