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

5 thoughts on “Why Writers should be Poets

  1. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but you make a wonderful case for then need for writers to study poetry. I always say that I can’t really see what authors are describing, but I do see – or perhaps I feel – good poetry. In fact, some of my favorite poems are merely description, which is something I rarely enjoy in a work of prose…with the possible exception of Dickens and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

    Perhaps we should go back to teaching much more poetry in school. 🙂

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    1. I think we should. Of course, teaching poetry requires our listening, and actually noticing things, instead of blurting out thoughts using the first idiom that comes to mind. I think that may be partly why it is no longer popular–it requires observation and thought, and it is not as immediate as a tweet or a post. 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I’ve been trying to use it myself…still trying to figure out how to make an action scene poetic and clear, at the same time. I want readers to feel the mood, but not lose track of what is happening. 🙂

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      1. Practice using it on your writing and it’ll eventually become natural. I’m in the same boat so I’ve been writing more poetry to improve my descriptive prose. It’s starting to sound less terrible than it was:)

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