I have to admit I was not a big fan of poetry until a few years ago. I did not take it seriously because it was not constrained by the rules of grammar. Therefore, writers could do anything they wanted and call it poetry. However, my opinion changed when I heard an interview with Dana Gioia. (Gioia is pronounced JOY-uh.) He is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet and also Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Gioia caused me to reconsider my position and made me realize all writers can benefit from reading poetry. He did not make that exact statement, but that is the conclusion I have come to after taking up the habit of reading poetry.
I got started with a simple book titled, A Poem A Day. It is just what the title says; a collection of 365 poems that are taken from all different time periods. Prompted by the reading of this book and then listening to other interviews about poetry, I started to read works of specific poets. One of my favorites is Jane Kenyon and her book Otherwise. From these books and others, I have come to realize that reading poetry makes you a better writer if you pay attention to what is important to a good poet..
- Poetry focuses on the details that otherwise might be missed. A good poem draws the attention of the reader to a certain detail that might have been overlooked. That is a useful skill no matter what genre you are writing. Some times we gloss over something when just spending a little more time describing a scene or character or idea is the difference between communicating and capturing the reader.
- Poets appreciate that less is more. While good poets pay attention to details, they don’t use one more word than is needed to make their point. That is so important. Too often, authors think books are like deli meats. The heavier the book, the more it is worth. The reality is many books have over inflated word counts because the author did not appreciate the value of saying more by saying less.
- Good poetry uses precise words. It was the interview with Gioia that first caused me to see the value of this. I could use the word, “rock” or the words “crystalline quartz”. Both are correct, but one paints a more vivid picture for the reader. Again, no matter what the genre, I think there is tremendous value in using the exact word rather than a general word when writing. Good poets do this very well. Good writers can learn from them.