Find updates on the Breakfast Club Writing Routine at the bottom of this article!
In the film Chocolat from the book of the same name by Joanne Harris; Judy Dench gives a poetry book to her estranged grandson.
He reacts in the way many children (and adults) would—says thank you but with a slightly glazed expression; wishing the present was a new puppy or the next Assassin’s Creed.
His grandmother notices this of course, and replies:
‘It’s not that kind of poetry.’
I’ve always loved and remembered this statement because it sums up perfectly the difficulties many people have with this kind of creative writing.
There are readers and writers alike who find the world of poetry highbrow, self-indulgent and unapproachable.
To be honest, once we’d moved from prose to poetry in my course, I felt like the world was falling out from under my feet.
As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed poetry; but as a writer, it was the first time I didn’t feel in control of the craft and felt unsure about the highly constrained world of metre and stanza in fixed verse.
I also felt cringed out—kind of like being caught singing in the shower.
Yet in being ‘forced’ to study and write poetry in an academic sense; even if I never write another poem again, the tools it has given me to improve my prose fiction is beyond measure.
So with a bit of ‘shopping around,’ to find ‘not that kind of poetry’— read as much as you can and discover the pieces that make the puzzle of this craft fit together.
Have a go at writing some yourself and I promise that if you’re serious about it, the next time you write prose, you’ll be a haute precision writing weapon.
Now let’s take a look at 5 ways future you will rock…
I Have a Musicality I Never Had Before
If you’re British, you’ve no doubt been grilled in Shakespeare at some point in your young life (and may still have the scars to show for it).
‘Iambic pentamenter,’ the metric line that the Bard predominantly used in his sonnets may be recalled as a faint ghost from English lessons past. It’s a line consisting of 5 stressed and 5 unstressed syllables—10 syllables altogether.
There are of course other metrical lines to learn about; but before you start feeling scared as I did in this part of my module, it’s one of those things that sounds complicated but isn’t.
It becomes easier with practice and you can learn to have fun with it—try practising with the lyrics of your favourite songs. Let’s take Paloma Faith’s I Just Can’t Reply on You:
I—just can’t—rely—on you.
With both the stressed and unstressed syllables, this creates a beat of 4 rather than 5, which is called tetrameter.
Rhyme and alliteration of course, also have a big part to play. Once you’ve spent time concentrating on these elements; future you will be aware of a music in the English language you couldn’t pinpoint before.
Prose is a little different, in the sense that we often require a diluted version of a highly concentrated poetic cordial (it would be too exhausting for every sentence to be as charged as a line of poetry).
It should still have a musicality however, and you’ll know how to work the system; with possibilities you can push further to create your perfect symphony.
I’m a Fine-Tuned Instrument With Word Choices
Although the same principle applies to prose fiction, i.e. expressing as much meaning as we can in as few words as possible; poetry is even more extreme.
There’s simply not enough time for waffling.
Writing poetry forces us to focus on essential meaning and this kind of training will help enormously when writing prose fiction.
Future you will know that those four sentences describing how the light falls on the garden every evening at 7pm, can be reduced to one sentence or less.
I Know How to Keep All My Craft Options Open
Often in courses and books about the art of prose fiction; writing craft at the level of the word is replaced in favour of studying plot, characterisation and tension etc.
This is of course, just as important; but disregarding the building blocks that create them, namely language itself is like creating an amazing cake decoration around a dry sponge.
Future you will not only be practised in the art of storytelling but in slight of hand at the language level that drives the magic home for the reader.
I’ve Been to Writing Hell and Back—There’s Nothing You Can’t Throw at Me
Learning the craft of poetry and writing yourself out of it can feel like you’re Houdini writhing in a straightjacket.
We can’t just write whatever the hell we want, how we want, in the same way we can with prose.
All our thoughts and imagery (encased within theme and subject) have to be accordance with metrical beat, line breaks and form; particularly if we’ve chosen something more traditional like the sonnet or the villanelle.
But Sophie, I’ll just write in free verse!
Well, free verse is not strictly as ‘free’ as its name suggests. Highly acclaimed poets that utilise this form may seem as though they’re doing whatever the hell they want, but not surprisingly, they’re not.
Study their poems closely and you’ll still find the same laws of physics that govern all poetry, it’s just not as obvious or as tightly controlled.
Future you however, having practised various forms is now able to tackle writing challenges in a way that frightened you before.
So the next time you’re writing prose and struggling to express something in a concise sentence; no sweat. You’ll be able to do it in a hot minute (or at least feel confident that you can).
I’m a Highly Discerning Editor
This relates to the point about word choice; in which we discussed how you’ll be more discerning about the things you say to express meaning.
In not having the luxury of time or space, not only are we forced to be more choosy in this sense, it means future you will be happier and less sentimental when it comes to ‘killing your darlings.’
When writing prose fiction for uni, there were times when I left in sentences that didn’t need to be there, other than the fact that I liked them.
For the poetry module, I couldn’t do this—it didn’t give me the choice.
I was forced to cut out great imagery for the sake of making the poem work and it’s this kind of tough love we need to be reminded of as prose fiction writers.
If you’re struggling with this, I highly recommend that you give yourself a strict word count for a piece of work; even if you don’t intend to do anything with it.
In this way, you’ll have to take out the things you love that shouldn’t be there.
Conclusion—Trying New Vegetables
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s that its always good to try new ‘writing’ things.
Remember when your parents tried (despairingly) to push something alien into your mouth in the hope you’d be free of deficiencies and turn out a reasonably sophisticated adult?
Well it was traumatising at the time, but I bet you’re grateful now that you have such an excellent palette and can talk about the subtle differences between different mediterranean olives.
I’m discovering the same with writing.
So the next time you have the opportunity to read and practise something different, don’t push the fork away. Sniff it, lick it and stick it on a pizza.
You might be pleasantly surprised.
So guys, what has been your experience of poetry thus far in your life? Is it something you love but don’t know how to approach? Maybe you can’t stand the stuff and want to throw it and this article out with the rubbish bin!
Whatever your thoughts, jot them down in the comments section below. I wonder if there are some brave ones amongst you who might even share some poetry in progress?
Until next time; happy writing^^,
The Breakfast Club Writing Routine update:
So I’ve been doing this for over a week now and I’m already feeling the benefits; in fact I’m thinking of increasing my writing time to 30 mins instead of 15! I love the moment I’ve carved out for myself and it’s something I look forward to when I wake up.