Tag Archives: poetry

Genre Lessons: Poetry

Poetry (1)I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re discussing poetry. I have a weird relationship with poetry. There are lots of poets and collections that are considered lofty, literary works — Poetry with a capital “P” — that I just don’t get. I recognize that these are great works, but they do nothing for me. But at the same time, I love music, and the sound of words, and clever turns of phrase (bonus points if there’s some kind of rhyme, either internal or at the end of a line). I will spend hours turning over a gorgeous line/sentence/paragraph/stanza in my mind. And I am so in awe of some spoken word poets, I can’t even articulate their genius.

So, poetry. It simultaneously delights and confuses me, intrigues and bores me, depending on the poem. Which I guess is true of any format, any medium. But people often speak of poetry as a single thing (genre?), so I sometimes feel like I should be able to form a single opinion on it. Either it’s for me, or it’s not, right?

Wrong. The first lesson I learned when reading poetry for this month’s book club is:

1. No single work is representative of any genre, category, format, medium, etc. Just like there are some mysteries I love and others I couldn’t finish, some romances that make me swoon and others that make me cringe, the label a work is given does not automatically determine who will like or dislike it. Sure, knowing the genre helps, but you might surprise yourself when you try something in a genre you don’t normally read. I find that time and time again with poetry. Also,

2. A piece can read like poetry even if it’s written as prose, in paragraphs rather than stanzas. Some of the most gorgeous, poetic things I’ve read have come from novels by the likes of Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Jandy Nelson, and Maggie Stiefvater. Those lines that make you catch your breath, that you go back and re-read again and again — whether they’re hidden in prose or not, I consider them poetry. Finally,

3. Whether you’re writing poetry or prose, there has to be an overall arc, a theme or story connecting the entire work. In a novel, that’s your story. In a collection of poems, maybe that’s a story (as we see with novels in verse), or maybe it’s a theme that links every poem in that collection. Whatever it is, there has to be a common thread.

Now, I’m off to read some more gorgeous writing. I finally got my hands on the audiobook The Raven King, and I believe Maggie Stiefvater’s prose is so musical it’s even better read aloud.

What has poetry taught you about writing? Any poets or collections you’d recommend?


What I learned from 30 days of poems


Photo by Flickr user Teresa Grau Ros

In April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day in honor of National Poetry Month. This turned out to be a great time for such a challenge; poetry has always served as an emotional outlet for me on the rare occasions I sit down to pen a poem, and it was nice to have that outlet when things got really crazy at work last month. I think I learned more about myself than I did about writing from this endeavor, but maybe you’ll find something useful in my takeaways, too.

First, I learned that I’m obsessed with word sounds and rhythm. I’ve always known this; while I don’t often read poetry, I’ll fall in love with poetic prose, and can be deeply moved by a poignant turn of phrase. Throughout April I forced myself to focus on rhymes and rhythm, and I found that focus creeping into my work as I edited prose.

I also learned that I don’t like being confined to a rigid structure. Every poem I wrote was free verse, and while there were some rhymes, and I was aware of the meter, I never forced myself to follow a strict structure. There were no limericks, no sonnets, no haikus. I wrote what resonated with me, and what I thought sounded okay. (I say okay because while there were a few stanzas I really liked, the majority of my poems still feel like drivel. I think I’ve mentioned that I don’t consider myself a poet by any stretch.)

But most importantly, I learned the same lesson writing flash fiction has taught me: experimenting with a new format forces you to flex different writing muscles. I don’t see myself every writing poetry professionally, but I do feel like my poetry improved over the course of thirty days. And writing poems has made me even more aware of the sound and rhythm of my prose.

Have you ever done a writing challenge like this? How did it go?

Poetry Challenge for April


Photo by Flickr user Teresa Grau Ros

I can’t believe it’s already April! Life is kind of crazy in the best possible ways right now — lots of reading, fun programs to plan at the library — but I don’t want to completely give up my habit of writing every day. (I’m a creature of habit, and I have this fear that if I stop writing every day, I may stop writing entirely. It’s completely irrational, but there it is.) So, while friends are enjoying virtual — and maybe not-so-virtual — s’mores at Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m challenging myself to write a poem a day.

While I’m choosing poetry as a way to keep writing through a busy spell, I am in no way claiming that writing poetry is easy, or that it doesn’t take a lot of time to write a poem. It’s not, and it does. In fact, I’m 99% sure I’m completely terrible at writing poems; that’s part of the reason why I’m making it my challenge for April. In all likelihood I’ll still be a terrible poet at the end of the month, but I hope that spending more time thinking about the sound and rhythm of my words will help improve my prose. I’m not setting out to write masterpieces here, I just want to stretch some creative muscles that don’t get as much use. And what better time to start than National Poetry Month?

Are you participating in any writing challenges? Any exercises you’d recommend to improve one’s poetry?