Tuesday, March 13, 2018


post by Lynn

If I’m cornered and asked that oh-so-annoying question, “What kind of writer are you?” I’ll usually answer that I’m an essayist and blogger.

So then why do I belong to the WyoPoets organization, and why am I going to their 2018 Spring Workshop in Cheyenne on April 28th?

Because sometimes I write poems.

Because I learn so much from the poets I meet.

Because I love the way poetry turns my brain upside down and helps me see new things while I’m all upside-down-ey.

So I am going to try to convince you that even if you are primarily a prose writer, like me, you should consider dabbling in poetry.

Starting with… 

1. Writing poetry helps you learn how to capture emotion on the page. 

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat… a homesickness.” 
- Robert Frost 

Wordsworth called poetry "the spontaneous overflow of feelings." If a prose writer is occasionally accused of stilted writing, studying poetry will help him/her to overcome that tendency. I have found that if I can’t figure out what an essay is really about—what is at the heart of it—writing a poem can help me zoom in on the emotional core of the story.

2. Writing poetry encourages you to write in sensory language

 … and that’s good for all forms of writing.

“Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t often use enough. Poetry keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your tongue, your hand.” 
- Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing 

Bad poetry is abstract and unclear. Good poetry encapsulates a single moment or image and presents it to the reader intact and pulsating with life.

We need more of that in all of our writing, don't you think?

3. Poetry experiments with form

… and that helps a writer learn to experiment with form in other styles of writing.

Ghazel, sestina, rhyming (and not), cinquain, acrostic, haiku or sonnet--poets have, through the centuries, come up with thousands of ways to stitch a poem together.

As writers, we can all get stuck in certain styles, formulas and formats. Poetry encourages me to break out and try new ways of organizing words. Because of poetry’s (usually) short form (not a huge investment of time in writing a first draft) I’m more apt to be playful and experimental.

4. Poetry encourages you to pay attention to rhythm, sound and pacing in a piece of writing

In linguistics it’s called “prosody” and in poetry we learn to use intonation, rhythm, the sounds of consonants and vowels, stressed and unstressed syllables in ways that enhance the meaning of the poem.

Poets learn to use punctuation and line breaks to control the pace at which a poem is read (out loud or in your head).

They use assonance (putting words with similar vowel sounds together) to produce a flowing, musical effect, or sharp consonance (repetition of similar consonants) to jar people awake.

These are all skills that can absolutely be transferred to prose… hallelujah, amen.

5. Poetry pushes you to focus and condense 

Poems don’t allow for long lead-ins, so they teacg a writer to jump right in where the story-image starts. What's more, learning how to edit and revise a poem is great training for editing and revising longer prose pieces. 

Poetry also encourages you to read close, and slow, and in this all-in-a-rush world, that’s a very good thing.

 6. Poetry encourages you to play with words and all their layers 

Poets geek out on things like connotation and denotation. (See a post on the topic at This Itch of Writing.)

Poets are aware that using long Latinate words, with a multitude of syllables, will tend to impart more formality to a piece of writing, while short ones that sound like how folks talk are more informal.

I think Samuel Taylor Choleridge nailed it when he said, "Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order."

A writing friend chimes in… 

Jim Littwin is a writer I “met” when he submitted a poem to Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology. Like me, he is a big fan of studying poetry to improve your writing overall.

I quote from his comments…

Because so much depends on word choice in poems, because by its very nature poetry is a more concentrated and condensed form of writing, because poetry is necessarily imagistic, and because poetry is expressed in narrative, lyrical, metaphysical, and surrealistic manners (to name just a few) and in a wide variety of traditional (rhyming and unrhyming) forms, as well as in free verse, organic poems, prose poems, and other “experiments,” poetry in itself is a veritable "art institute" of many galleries, each one offering experiences that can awe us, enrich us, inspire us, and teach us about life and writing in a relatively small space, each poem a “canvas” that we can get lost in, then emerge from, changed forever as both persons and writers. (Whew!) 
Yes, yes, poems, by their very nature, demonstrate effective writing strategies and skills.

Yeah... what he said.

We could go on and on about how poetry can make you a better prose writer, but let’s not.

My co-blogger Susan, reading her off-the-cuff poem
at last year's workshop
So how about it? Will you join me and others at the WyoPoets 2018 Spring Workshop?

For all the reasons above.

And also because the workshop is so damned reasonable ($50 before April 14th, a mere $55 after).

And because Art Elser is the workshop leader. (You won’t find a more delightful combination of sagacity, sly humor and humility in a single person, I guarantee.)

Here's that sly fella I mentioned who will guide us through the
 "Art and Craft of Poetry"
and as a bonus, share his experiences in
publishing his own poetry.
And because the folks involved with WyoPoets are such an eclectic, welcoming and word-loving bunch. Just the kind of people I like to hang out with.

For more information on WyoPoet’s Spring Workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetry,” visit www.wyopoets.org.


I often use poems as a writing prompt when it’s my turn to provide one to my writing group.

Try this poem/prompt and see where it leads you, and let's all say "Thanks!" to Jim Littwin for loaning us this fine poem.

Lost Gospel
by Jim Littwin

And at that time
Jesus broke away from us
and waded into weeds,
plastic bags,
and broken glass
under a billboard
and knelt beside
a drunken man
curled and cursing,
shivering in his own sickness.

There in the dirt
Jesus sat him up
and said words to him
we couldn't hear,
for we wouldn't go near.

And the man did not
stop drinking immediately
thereafter, but followed us
at a distance,
from that day.

And sometimes,
Jesus would wave us away
and turn to walk with that man,
to ask him questions,
then listen and listen.

--"Lost Gospel" was originally published in Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology

Prompt question:

What would you add as a "lost gospel"? Or what lost chapter, idea or element would you add to another work, such as the Chronicles of NarniaThe OdysseyCrime and Punishment or another classic?