Recently, one of my poets tried his hand at prose. His imagery was understandably phenomenal, but there were a few areas he seemed to struggle with. I understand the same applies in reverse. He had a tendency to write sentence fragments and overly long run-on sentences, often possessing no subject. It took some work to break him of those habits, and even still on occasion he would turn to me to verify if a sentence worked or not.
For comparison, (for science!) I asked a young prose writer to write a poem. Her sentences were perfect, with good flow of length. Every sentence was properly punctuated. Each fell within paragraphs of 1-4 sentences each. Had she provided citation, it would have been very nearly in proper MLA format. Her imagery was beautiful, quite poetic, but completely un-metered. Her second attempt was a piece she disliked, it was ABAB with short lines of perfect rhyme. Her response was, “It seems so little kiddy.” In truth it was clearly amateur work, though I have seen much worse. It said nothing in regard to her skill as a writer, merely displayed a few weaker areas.
This prompted another line of thought; why do we struggle with only one of the two? Perhaps it was the form, or the familiarity. At this point I decided to analyse each word and compare what may differ within the two schools of thought.
Prose, according to Merriam Webster is the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing. Or, a literary medium distinguished from poetry especially by its greater irregularity and variety of rhythm and its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech
Poetry is defined as metrical writing, or writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.
Why, I wondered, did it seem people only trained one portion of their artistic device? Perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps it was something in the way our brains process information. After consideration, I recalled that both were able to follow the rules for the newly selected style after some coaching, so we must be capable of both,if either. Then it must come down to training, the way we exercise our brain.
Poets often enjoy the freedom of their form. They are able to cut straight through to the emotional hard-hitters, precisely where they want to direct the eye of the reader, with the ability to forgo prepositions and other ancillary words. Your prose writer, however, seems to feel lost without these perfectly formed sentences. From this, I determined that either should have the ability to write either, it is merely another means of stepping out of one’s comfort zone. They too, feel they are more free within their region of expertise, as they are not limited to meter.
This brought on another consideration; which of the two is more constricting? I am not certain I could answer that, even after contemplation and counsel. It then occurred that perhaps I was right on with the thought that it comes to training one’s brain. The answer seemed simple. Take a poem, and write a story about it, in prose. Or, take a story, written in prose and turn it into poetry. Convert what you see to an alternate form, and it should increase our writing repertoire.
This brings us to another point. Why is it that the immediate image conjured when a non-poet is asked about poetry, is the standard AABB or ABAB for? Usually the non-poet cannot explain what iambic pentameter, or tetrameter, etc means. Yet, they produce a very tight rhyme scheme when asked to write poetry. Perhaps we are not educating our youth as to the proper forms of poetry. I recall handing a beginning poet several books to look over, the authors included Allan Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, P. K. Paige, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman (because I’m sadistic) and William Blake. The response, I admit, gave me a smile. “But some of this doesn’t even rhyme!” It was easy to feel like Obe Wan in that moment, staring into the eyes of an untrained youth, as they peered back at me with hopeful fascination. Quickly, I kicked my geeky ego back into its doghouse and explained the point of the exercise was to display the differences between poetic form.
My best advice to any poet, no matter the experience level remains the same. Read everything you can get your hands on. One cannot create in a vacuum, therefore we must expose ourselves to the world and let it influence us. If we cannot allow the entry of foreign concepts that challenge the notions we have created, we will always remain in stasis, never creating, only re-telling.