Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Creative Writing: Finding the Poetic in Your Prose--Part 2

Yesterday I talked about using poetry to enhance your prose. Here’s another example, on a darker note—Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Sonnet V”:

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

Her use of the everyday as a setting for the tragic news highlights the grief—backlights it, so to speak. More than that, she seems to effortlessly portray a grief too sacred to be shared with strangers on a subway…a grief so profound it has to be held in for a more private moment. Above all, she does it using only 118 words, and in a way more compelling than if she’d used the hackneyed cliché, “A grief too deep for words.”

From these two examples alone, you can see how the poetic perspective applies not only to poetry, but also to compelling prose. Imagine paragraphs or scenes written with the same mind-set, the same attention to every word, the same sensory-based emotion. Better yet, try it out! Take one of these poems, or another you like, and write a piece of prose—fact or fiction—using the skills of the poet. It may take some practice. Done correctly, though, it will lift your prose to a whole new altitude.

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