Weekly Musing: The Value of Poetry

I’ll admit poetry is not a form of writing I read much of or write. Up until recently, the only time I read or write poetry was for school. For me I felt poetry was the arena of the tortured soul. Someone tucked away in the corner of a room wearing a black beret, lamenting the damnable state of the world as he chain smokes himself into the grave. The poems I read in school I felt, were really pretentious and just so overwrought. Perhaps because the subject matters chosen for our textbooks dealt with life, death, and politics. Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate some of the poems for conveying difficult emotions in a powerful way.

If poetry in school taught me anything it was apparently if you are a happy person, poetry ain’t for you. Only the emotions of angst, sadness, lost, and anger need apply. Why didn’t we ever read happy poems? Funny poems? Or even slightly amusing ones? Was it because we were teenagers and the nation’s school boards felt only the dark stuff would speak to us? Or is because it is too easy to dismiss positive emotions as fluff that lack depth?

So these were the prejudices I have held since my school days. This started to change when I began writing. I realized for myself, poetry is a great way to express short bursts of emotions that are troubling me. When I do write poetry, it is usually when I’m feeling angry, sad, or alone. Again, I associate poetry with only ‘serious’ emotions. When I write poetry, it releases me from those emotions I am bottling up. They can come out in a safe matter. Once the words are our, I feel much better and can concentrate on the rest of my day.

When I took a creative writing class last year, the first unit we did was poetry. I was a bit nervous since it’s not my favorite discipline but I was also thankful we were starting with it. What was a nice change from high school and college was the poems the teacher assigned were less angst filled and even fun. My teacher encouraged us to use concrete, vivid images. For example, instead of saying ‘A flower vase sitting on the windowsill’ a much more vivid image for a reader would be ‘A cracked, faded blue vase filled with pink and orange flowers sat upon the windowsill drinking in the morning sun’.

That’s when I started to realize how valuable poetry is for a fiction writer. Poetry forces the writer to concentrate on making the most out of a small amount of words. To really drill into the core of the piece for the emotions and to come up with appropriate images to convey that emotion. Elements every fiction writer should be striving for over the length of their story. What an epiphany!

The poetry unit in my creative class also encouraged me to write poems. I don’t ever look back on the poems I’ve written to revise them, though. That’s not why I write them. I don’t consider myself a poet just a fiction writer who sometimes likes to write poetry. Another reason is because many of my poems touch upon the theme of isolation; at work, with friends, or with family, not stuff I want to share with anyone else. But I have tried to move beyond that melancholy to write poems about what I see walking down by the river on a spring day, a poem appreciating my spouse, the theme of freedom, and other non-angst emotions.

I’ve also made more of an effort to read poetry. The nice thing about libraries and downloading free books from Amazon is it allows me a chance to explore a new genre. Some I have enjoyed quite a bit, one in particular Ghetto Hot Sauce, is a collection of very harsh, sometimes brutal, poems about life in prison and growing up in the inner city yet the themes of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation pop up in many of the pieces.

Poetry is just another form of storytelling and it took becoming an adult and taking a creative writing class to realize that. Just another avenue for me to take on the verbiage highway.

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