Saturday, November 10, 2007

Poetry Lessons: Introduction -- Why write poetry?

I've been meaning to do this in one form or another for some time. And Jen (Hi, Jen!) told me I should blog more about poetry, so this is a good excuse to get started.

It seems to me that:

  1. Lots of people want to and/or try to write poetry. There's lots of it on the Web, anyway. And when I was studying writing in college, lots of us were doing it even without teh intranets.
  2. There are not a lot of "how to" books, articles, blogs, etc. on how to write poetry. Plenty on how to read it. But, while reading poetry is very important for those who want to improve their writing, the skills needed are different and require different pokings.

Hmmm... Usually my lists have at least three things. Three being the magic number. But two is OK here; a need and a lack of support for the need. Perfect niche to fill.

Let's look at #1 first. If you do a search on "poetry," you'll find plenty of places where thousands of people are posting their work. The very first thing I want to make absolutely clear is that there is NO SUCH THING as bad poetry, from the point of view of poetry as a creative outlet. There are several reasons why people write poetry, and they should all be respected:

  • As an outlet for creative thoughts
  • As an outlet for emotion
  • To vent
  • To explore thoughts/ideas
  • To explore your own psychology
  • To work with language
  • To communicate using different skills
  • To communicate with contextual richness
  • To communicate with nuance
  • To build confidence, either in the craft or as a communicator in general
  • To connect with others
  • To score chicks by the busload

That last was the reason I got into poetry. Trust me... good poets drive the ladies wild.

Now... some people write for only one or two of those reasons. If you are writing poetry as an outlet for emotion or to explore your own psychology, your work falls under the "no bad poetry" rule. Spending time doing something introspective and creative will only bring you good things.

That being said... most of the other reasons above require that you consider your readers, not just your own bad, poetic self. Within the context of poetry that is meant to communicate creatively, interestingly, contextually, fully and artfully (wow... that's a lot of adverbs), there is such a thing as poetry that is much, much better.

This really can't be emphasized enough: nobody should be discouraged from writing poetry; it's too close to the heart. If you've started, don't ever stop. If you haven't ever tried it, give it a whirl. It provides great benefits.

Those beneifts, however, expand greatly when you study poetry (reading and writing it) and work to hone your craft. The more you know about the elements of poetry, and the more you practice, the more joy you will have in it. And, after a time, others may also have a joy in it. Because reading good poetry can be a wonderful, mind-expanding experience.

And just as I said there is no such thing as bad poetry... there is also not enough really good poetry.

Which brings us to #2.

I make no claims about the quality of my own work. I like some of it. I do it for all the reasons listed above, and writing poetry has improved (I know) my prose writing, my reading abilities and my overall creative oomph. It has also provided me with opportunities to make many good friends and have wonderful discussions and learning experiences.

I have spent many years writing, both prose and poetry. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college studying poetry, writing it, discussing it with others, editing it, etc. Again... I make no claims about the overall quality of my own work (judge that for yourself), but I do know that what I'm writing now is much, much better than what I started writing in the 7th grade. God, I hope so... And what I hope to do with this series of posts is provide a framework within which others who are interested in improving their work might do so.

These lessons will be based, loosely, on practices and projects that I've been involved with. They will provide some thoughts on how to read poetry, with an eye towards incorporating those thoughts into your own work.

There is no bad reason to write poetry. And the writing of it, no matter the quality of the output, is an important activity that should always be encouraged. I've never, ever told anyone (or even thought), "Wow. Your stuff reeks. You should really just stop." Bad, bad, bad idea. But I've also never, ever told anyone, "Your poetry can't be improved," or "Don't actively work on your writing."

These lessons will be for folks who want to work on the work.

Let's get started... 

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