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.
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.
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. . .
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!)