The Return of the Lost Daughter: Why Poetry?

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By Natalie Nera

fire and ice by robert frost

Photo by Ayat Zaheer on Pexels.com

If you ask me who I am as a creative beast, my answer would be “a prose writer”.  However, I also write a lot of poetry. I have read books on poetry writing. Why? What is the point if a) English is my second language and I know I am not a genius like Ilya Kaminsky or Kapka Kassabova, b) I will probably never be published?

The explanation is simple: poems teach me about the inner workings of the language, they teach me about its music and tonality. I play with words, I try out metaphors. I enjoy, rather masochistically, to struggle through the muds of natural rhythms. This seemingly pointless work later reflects in my prose pieces. The economy of expression in poems translates well into fiction, it helps me to create “verbal short cuts”.

Think of the nineteenth-century writers who needed pages and pages to create a dinner scene. Today’s writers need a paragraph, or sometimes only a sentence to achieve the same. They only spend pages on a particular dinner scene if there is a good reason for it. In other words, in modern fiction, less is more.

If you can weave images into your fiction, you spur the reader’s imagination and make them want more – the ultimate goal of every writer.

However, there is also a danger of overdoing it or overwriting if you like. It is a particular pain of mine that I tend to cram my early drafts with too many metaphors, images, likening this to that, thinking of clever words and expressions.

In the past, I tried to curb my enthusiasm for playing with words and sentences but it stopped me from writing at all. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my creative practice is that it is all right to overwrite, it is all right to use flowery language (partly coming from my Czech background), it is all right to be sentimental, and it is all right to be wrong as long as you keep writing.

When you finish your first draft, you have succeeded. Now, the craft of a fiction writer begins with re-drafts. Is the structure sound? Have I kept the point of view? Is the story character-driven? Have I thought through the characters?

In the last re-drafts, it is time to scale down the language, remove all unnecessary decorations, simplify the sentences wherever you can. The remaining metaphors have to be spot on. They gain the power to shock, to surprise. The text is no longer overloaded and burdened with its own possibilities. Instead, the story is the star, supported by images, structures, and words.