Since this is POETRY MONTH I thought I'd post something about how we novelists can benefit from the poet's labor of love. As I see it, POETRY is all about the pure pleasure of language, the way it can wash through you, bringing fresh images, giving sound and shape to thought.
When I read a poem I let the language have its way with me, but I often return to those I'm particularly captivated by to understand why they reached more deeply inside me than others. Here are a few things that I admire in good poems and that I keep in mind while writing my prose.
Poets are an economical bunch. They use few, but powerful, multi-tasking words to create their stories. I think prose writers can learn so much about the fine art of word selection by reading poets, old and modern.
Here's one of my favorite classics A Shady Friend for Torrid Days by Emily Dickinson. In three stanzas she covers the ups and downs of human relationships and she does it with such tactile images.
Is easier to find
Than one of higher temperature
For frigid hour of mind.
The vane a little to the east 5
Scares muslin souls away;
If broadcloth breasts are firmer
Than those of organdy,
Who is to blame? The weaver?
Ah! the bewildering thread! 10
The tapestries of paradise
So notelessly are made!
Poets weave the sounds of their language in such a way that they create special rhythms and harmonies.
I can't read Vachel Lindsay without hearing the beat of the drums or feeling the heat of The Congo. It's not among my favorites, but it's one I hear long after reading
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
Alliteration: The repetition of the inital consonant sounds.
Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds.
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.