Most prose writers are not great poets, and most poets are not great prose writers. Oh, there are exceptions, like Shakespeare, but they’re usually the literary exceptions that prove the rule. However, that doesn’t mean there should be no crossover between the styles. If you’re a prose writer, the fact that your poetry will never equal Keats shouldn’t keep you from trying!
The most basic reason for a prose writer to pursue poetry—both reading and writing—is because it is enjoyable. However, there’s more to it than that. Poetry also offers a different view of the world, a certain slant of sunlight and shadow that only poetry can provide. When you look through the eyes of a poet, you see things differently. When you apply that special vision to your prose, you get spectacular results.
To be clear, I’m not referring to what some call “poetic rambling”—just the opposite. I’m talking about the poet’s ability to seize an emotion, event, or image and narrow it to only a few words…or cast it in moonlight instead of sunlight…or squeeze it into iambic pentameter without making it seem squeezed. It’s that kind of ability that can benefit your prose.
For instance, let’s consider how modern poet Lorraine R. Sautner approaches the “boring” profession of accounting in this excerpt from her poem, “The Alchemist.”
If accountancy were a dark art,
he’d be a High Priest,
cloaked in deductible
interest income, conjuring
diabolical formulas of amortization,
and whispering incantations
in praise of the unholy
power of compound
…In a state of near exhaustion
and with trembling digits, he
raises to the heavens
his financial masterpiece,
lit from within by a supernatural
And in a final gesture of renunciation,
gently surrenders it to his Outbox.
…the expense reports are now complete.
While it’s true you would never write prose exactly like that, think how much stronger your descriptive writing would be if you used that kind of imagery in everything you wrote (well, maybe not in an expense report, but you get the idea!).