Through fresh use of the very language we speak every day, poetry creates intrigue, and builds a connection between the author and the reader. But you don’t need to be a poet to use and benefit from poetic tools! Here are 5 tangible suggestions for learning to incorporate poetic tools into your prose.
1) Find the Poems You Enjoy Reading
Find the poetry that you enjoy reading, and study it closely to absorb various writing techniques like imagery, rhythm and repetition. In the DIY MFA book, Gabriela refers to this kind of study as “close reading.” You may also find this article helpful.
Thanks in part to Instagram, we live in an age when contemporary poetry is accessible at the click of a button! To get started, scroll through the work of Margarite Camaj (@magicamaj_), Mirtha Michele Castro Marmol (@mirthamichelle), Rupi Kaur (@rupikaur_), Christopher Poindexter (@christopherpoindexter), Cleo Wade (@cleowade), or J Iron Word (j.ironword). Websites such as 2Elizabeths.com publish regular, contemporary poetry (as well as short and flash fiction) by both emerging and established writers.
2) Read poetry out loud
Poetry is designed to be read out loud. In fact, the earliest poetry was spoken or sung! You will experience a poem more fully this way, carrying out sounds and rhythms with your voice. Such poetic tools are incorporated to evoke joy, since human beings are naturally inclined to delight in melody. Additionally, you are more likely to understand and remember the facets of a poem you’d like to incorporate into your own writing if you read the work out loud.
3) Play with Imagery
“Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart; Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea” – Shakespeare
Please, don’t mind me as I swoon.
Back to reality. Whether you write poetry or prose, imagery is an incredibly powerful tool for enhancing your reader’s experience! But not all imagery has to be serious or swoon-worthy. For example, author Emma Straub often uses metaphors and similes in her prose for a humorous effect.
Play with tools like metaphor, simile, and symbolism to flesh out what best suits your current project.
4) Play with Rhythm
Consider sentence length variety. For instance, one very short, moving sentence can have significant impact after a longer, complex or compound sentence.
It can also be interesting to strategically play with the use of white space on the page, to drive a powerful sentence home.
Repetition is another way to play with the rhythm of your writing. You might use one word or image to focus your work. For instance, if there is a particular word in your story that holds special meaning, it might make sense to intentionally repeat it. In the same vein, the repetition of sound in the form of a tight rhyme, slant-rhyme (or B-rhyme) in select sentences or paragraphs can have an interesting impact on your prose.
5) Give Yourself Room to Experiment
Poetry, or the use of poetic tools, should not feel stuffy or be stressful! In fact, your writing will improve if it feels more like play!
Remember that you do not have to get it right the first time you write it down. In fact, if you expect yourself to, you aren’t likely to write much at all! You will get there. Your piece will get there. Breathe and enjoy the process of discovering the tools that best serve your work.
Elise Holland is co-founder and editor of 2 Elizabeths, a short fiction and poetry publication. Her work has appeared in various publications, most recently in Story a Day, and at JaneFriedman.com. Through 2 Elizabeths, Elise strives to create value and visibility for writers, through writing contests, events, and more!