Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Post: Angela Felsted

Hey guys! Today the lovely Angela Felsted is guest posting on a topic near and dear to my heart: how writing poetry affects the writing of fiction.

Angela is an amazing poet/writer whose book of poetry, Cleave, is now available for preorder.

She also has a breathtaking book trailer. Check it out!

Okay, enough gushing. Take it away Angela!

*****

“Excuse me but, your roots are showing.”

For years I labored under the impression that writing poetry would help me with my prose, mostly because there is no better way to practice repetition, rhythm, and symbolism than to write poetry.

Unfortunately, there is also no better way to practice ignoring traditional rules like those of punctuation, capitalization, and basic sentence structure than to write poetry.

Don’t believe me?

Just read a little e. e. cummings.

For the duration of this blog post, I’m going to liken poets to brunettes and writers of prose to blonds. It is hard not to notice, at times, the abundance of blonds who have dark roots.

While poetry and prose can go hand in hand, it’s a true skill to incorporate the two. So I have divided my fellow poet novelists into two camps. (1) Those who use the structure, rhythm, and imagery of poems to tell a story, while leaving out the many layers of meaning inherent to poetry. (2) Those who write straight prose while using their poetic roots to enhance their novels.

In the first camp we have authors who have created and pioneered the verse novel, those like Sonya Sones and Lisa Schroeder, both of whom I admire and respect. And in the second camp we have poets who have turned to straight prose, but cannot hide their poetic roots. I have decided to highlight three of them.

Margaret Atwood

In the “Handmaid’s Tale,” Ms. Atwood continually finds greater meaning in household routine—the taking of a bath, the covering of a canopy bed, even the sparseness of a handmaid’s room. She doesn’t use quotation marks (a sign of poetic license); her protagonist is introspective; and the ending is up for interpretation.

Carrie Jones

Though she writes in straight sentences and uses quotation marks, she isn’t afraid to use alliteration, or to repeat words for emphasis. Take this section from NEED:

“A noise escapes my lips—guttural, panicked, pathetic. I swallow, straighten. That is not how I am going to be. I am not going to die a wimp while waiting for the killer to get me. The snow plasters itself to the spruce trees. It touches my hair, coats my jacket and my pants, presses itself into my sneakers.” (p. 156)

Her use of alliterative words—panicked, pathetic—swallow, straighten—wimp while waiting, mixed with what she chooses to repeat, give her words a punch that other writers would be hard pressed to produce.

Laurie Halse Anderson

Because Ms. Anderson personifies feelings and uses down-to-earth pictures to create emotional context, much of her writing reads like poetry. This is a passage from Wintergirls that is one of my favorites:

“All of the badness boils under my skin, stingy ginger-ale bubbles fighting to breathe. I unbutton my jeans, sliding the zipper open one tooth at a time. I twist to the right and push down the elastic band of my underpants. . .

::Stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat/
stupid/baby/stupid/loser/stupid/lost::

I inscribe three lines, hush hush hush, into my skin.” (p. 61)

Ironically, many novels which use poetic language are criticized by readers who believe this kind of writing gets in the way of the story. While I see their point, I don’t know that I’d want The Handmaid’s Tale, Need, or Wintergirls written in any other style. Poetic devices slow readers down and makes them think, and isn’t that what good books are meant to make us do?

*****

Thank you Angela! (I think I'm in group 2. Though grouping me with the likes of Anderson, Jones and Atwood make me think there needs to be a group three--for the less goddess-like poet/writers out there!)


Also, go check out Sarah Fine's blog on how kids/pets/plants (or other things cared for) affect her writing. See my previous post and Laura Diamond's if you missed it, and stay tuned for Deb Salisbury's next week!

55 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

When it's the right story, I absolutely love prose that has a poetic tone and style to it. I loved the writing in Wintergirls.

Sarah said...

I've never written poetry and don't read it, but I have to say, I am a particular fan of the more poetic prose styles of Laurie Halse Anderson and Margaret Atwood. Great points here about those roots! Thanks for this post, Angela!

Miranda Hardy said...

I'm with Lydia is group two. I love good poetry, but you ate right about the rules.

Melissa Bradley said...

Excellent post! I do love to read poetry a lot and have only attempted a handful of poems, but I think I do try to keep a certain rhythm as I write. Not that you could exactly compare me to Atwood. :)

Jessica Bell said...

Excellent post! My novel has been criticized to over-sue poetic devices too. But blech, that's the way I like to write and I'm sticking to that! :o) Thanks, ladies!

Jessica Bell said...

over USE - gah!

Old Kitty said...

I truly wish I could write using both forms! LOL!! My poetry is very bad and silly so I try very hard not to employ the erm.. skills I use for writing bad poetry for my prose! LOL!

Oh but seriously! I do try to write with rhythm so maybe I'm in the no. 2 group too!

Thanks for a great post Angela and Lydia! Take care
x

Emily Rose said...

Great post! I love Laurie Halse Anderson's writing, especially in Fever 1793

Julie said...

Wonderful post, I love Angela's work!! I enjoy poetic prose in novels I read, and wish I could write poetry myself. I admire those who have this skill. Thanks for sharing this post, Lydia!

Angela Felsted said...

Thank you, Lydia. For having me on your blog.

@Laura, I love Wintergirls too.

@Sara, There women are my heroes.

@Miranda, Is it bad that I wish I could break the rules all the time?

@Melissa, Rhythm is important, and there's no better way to practice it than to write poetry.

@Jessica, You DO use a lot of poetic devices in your writing. But breaking the rules also makes your voice unique.

@Old Kitty, Probably better not to employ devices that you struggle with.

@Emily, I've never read Fever 1793, but I want to.

@Julie, Thanks. I'm blushing.

Angela Felsted said...

Oops, I mean "these," not "there."

Stephanie D said...

I really enjoyed this...and learned quite a bit. Thank you!

Lydia Kang said...

Angela, thanks for guest posting! I finally fixed the oddball formatting. No more aurie and argaret and arrie. Whew.

Angela Felsted said...

Thanks Lydia, I just sent you another email, about my own incompetent proofreading skills. I'm so glad you're patient with me.

Milo James Fowler said...

One of my goals is to add more poetry to my prose -- akin to Bradbury's. Atwood's work is also really something special.

magpiewrites said...

Awesome post, Angela.
Until I started getting involved in the writing community more, and following your blog in particular, I would have said I don't have much use for poetry.

I now see the error of my ways. Now that I'm reading more poetry it inspires me on a different emotional level than prose. And while I would never subject the world to any poetry I write (You're welcome, world) I realize I'm a blond with sizable dark roots!

Suze said...

So are memoirists redheads? Or raven-haired? ;)

Matthew MacNish said...

I don't read much poetry, and I haven't written it since high school, but I too love a novel of poetic prose. They're my favorite, in fact.

Jade said...

Wow this is a fascinating post, Angela!! I also love to combine poetry and prose and find that both make beautiful writing.

Carrie Butler said...

What an interesting post! Oh, and that trailer was beautiful, Angela. :)

Thanks for sharing her with us, Lydia!

Critique Sisters said...

This makes a lot of sense! Writing has a rise and flow to it as well if we only pay attention and listen. Excellent guest post!

Laurel Garver said...

What you observed about verse novel is interesting (form without the layers).

I'd read an interview with Jandy Nelson about The Sky is Everywhere, which she'd originally conceived as a verse novel, but published as a poetically written prose piece with some poems interspersed. Now I wonder if she found the verse novel form was too limited, because this book is quite lush and layered.

Liza said...

I know when a writer is a poet when I read a phrase that makes me stop and say "wow." Then I read it over and over again, hoping somehow the talent will transfer itself to me!

lbdiamond said...

Nice post, Angela!!! Love the examples.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Angela and Lydia..I envy people who can write poetry. Its something I am just not good at.

Krispy said...

Thanks for hosting, Lydia, and thanks Angela for the lovely post! I love your poetry. :)

I totally believe in this! I think there's so much that is done with language in poetry that writers of prose can benefit from studying. Like Lydia, I think I'm in Camp 2.

Briane P said...

Excellent points! I write poems from time to time, and I post a poem nearly every Friday:

http://www.thinkingthelions.com/2006/07/why-cant-you-just-buy-refrigerator.html

And often consider and discuss what separates a poem from prose. In my own writing, I've used repetitions of words, unusual capitalization, and other poetic elements to make a point; in my book "Eclipse," for example, flashbacks to Claudius' childhood have unique capitalization rules -- some (but not all) nouns get capitalized (there's a pattern to it but I won't say the pattern) to show that Claudius thinks differently, and to give insight into how he views the world.

I heard Ezra Pound wrote a sonnet a day before he took to free verse -- so knowing how to use rhythm and meter and the rules of grammar are necessary before deciding when to flout those rules.

Also, I really like poetry. It's the first thing I turn to in The New Yorker. So good for you, being a poet.

Angela Felsted said...

@Stephanie, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

@Milo, Good goal. I should probably look up Bradbury.

@Magpie, So glad you've discovered an appreciation for poetry!

@Suze, Who knows. Should I have divided authors into Harry Potter categories instead? That may have been fun.

@Mathew and Jade, Poetic prose are the best!

@critique sister, This is why it's so important to read your stuff out loud.

@Laure, This makes me want to read some Jandy Nelson.

@Liza, Me too.

@lbdiamond, Thanks!

@Rachna, Just like prose, it takes practice.

@Krispy, I've read some of your poetry and it's pretty good. I'd love to see how you use it in your stories.

Angela Felsted said...

Thanks Briane, so good to meet a fellow poet. I'll have to check out your Friday post.

Erin Cole said...

Always good to meet new poets, especially those who have traversed a variety of writing realms. I think every writer needs to dabble or at least read poetry. It cultivates uniqueness, because we all see the world from a slightly different angle. Poetry unearths that in us all.
Thanks Lydia!

Munk said...

Poetic post Angela. Thank you.

"Poetic devices slow readers down and makes them think, and isn’t that what good books are meant to make us do?"

It only slows the reader whose main goal is word consumption.

L.G.Smith said...

I'd fall in the second group as well, though like Lydia I think there ought to be a group three. I have such an appreciation for writers who can express themselves in metaphor without it being too blatant or forced. The best writers have a poet's heart in my opinion. Atwood is one of my favorites.

Mina Burrows said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. I wouldn't consider myself a poet, but I do write poetry from time to time and it is challenging. I find people in general criticize writers but when you layer in poetry...well let’s just say, you can’t make everyone happy. Great post.

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Love the e.e. cummings shout, couldn't agree more.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Is there a third group? One for those who write prose with no rhyme or reason?

Jennifer Hillier said...

Fantastic post. If there was a group three, though, I'd be in it. I don't think I have have poetic roots (though I wish I did!)

Barbara Watson said...

So interesting. I'm entranced when prose reads and feels like poetry. Kathi Appelt writes this way, and THE UNDERNEATH is simply beautiful.

Linda Gray said...

Beautiful explanation and examples of poetic language used in straight prose. Love it. Thank you!!

catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com said...

I love reading and writing poetry. I'm going to have to sneak your book onto my shelves somehow :)

Ciara said...

I love poetic prose, I'm just not good at writing them. :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Prose that has a poetic flow and cadence captures me when I am reading. The passage from Wintergirls is the perfect example.

Lindi said...

Loved this post. I think I am in group one as a writer. Would you say Anne Tyler would be in group 2? I love her books. And my brother gave me a Margaret Atwood book to read. Maybe I should read it.
Again--great post.

J.L. Campbell said...

I'm definitely in camp 2. I like a bit of beauty within sentences, unless the writer I'm reading is into minimalism, in which case I know what I'm getting up front.

alexia said...

Great post! I definitely like poetic flare in novels, as long as there is a nice balance of action. Carrie Jones does this nicely.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I love stories where the prose feels poetic. I actually thought that while reading Shatter Me. The way she writes is so lyrical and lovely.

Karen Lange said...

I agree - it does take skill to intertwine poetry and prose. I admire those who do it well. Nice to hear Angela's perspective. Thanks for hosting her, Lydia!

Carrie said...

Great post. I could always see the poetic parts in Anderson's work but now that you showed it in Carrie Jones it kinda makes me want to go back and check it out again.

DL Hammons said...

There's absolutely no chance my poetry would ever seep into my novel writing...even if you do consider lymrics real poetry. :)

nutschell said...

Great post, Lydia! Thanks for hosting Angela. I love Laurie Hals Anderson as well and I had the awesome pleasure of meeting her and getting my book signed at last August's SCBWI summer conference.

nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Olga said...

As a reader, I am not a big fan of the rhythm changing in a book. If, in prose, there is suddenly an element of poetry, I would find it jolting.

farawayeyes said...

Stopping by from the Blogfest. I know, I know, I'm very slow. But there are so many interesting looking blogs and so little time. I'm taking a few each day.

Interesting guest post on poetry. Never through of it that way. Enjoy reading it,but writing it is not my cuppa. I am with e e cummings and the punctuation thing.

Reading some of your older posts. I have to say,I love how your mind works. Nice to meet you.

Lola Sharp said...

I love poetry and I also love all three of the books (and authors) mentioned here, among others.

A wonderful guest post.

Also, CONGRATS, Lydia on your PM/sale!! Woot! :)

Hugs,
Lola

Crystal Pistol said...

I am a huge fan of Angela's poetry. She is very talented.

Great post!

Empty Nest Insider said...

Angela is the one who got me interested in poetry during The A-Z Blogfest. It was her extraordinary range that really moved me. I was born blond and now my roots are dusted with snow. I'm all for rhythm in any form of expression. Thanks Lydia for hosting Angela!

LTM said...

Yay, Dr. K! Love Angela. I'm a big fan of her poetry, so I loved all three examples. And as a closet poet, there are times when I see it creep out into my writing... omg! And I just noticed I need to get my roots done--ack! :D <3

 
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