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Poetry Put My Prose on a Diet

By definition, prose is dull. Look it up. Merriam-Webster defines it as: 1.) ordinary language people use in speaking or writing. 2.) a dull or ordinary style, quality, or condition. On the other hand, poetry is defined as writing that formulates a concentrated, imaginative awareness of experience chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm. Personally, I find this shocking. Fiction, which in my dictionary is defined as my imagination, has always brought about an awareness of experience that elicited an emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm. At least it did in my head. However, I did come to realize that I wasn’t getting that on the paper.

Pudgy Prose

Truthfully, I knew my writing needed something. But what? Turns out it was a diet. My prose was fat with dull, ordinary language, plump with lackluster style, and a blubbery caricature of story that needed a weight loss program. I wish I could say this came to me as an epiphany and I set about to “eat” right and “exercise” my manuscripts into shape. Rather, it came about by accident, a result of teaching poetry—a lot of poetry.

Back in 2008 I started as a teacher of creative writing and arts education with Writers in the Schools (WITS) in Houston. My head in the clouds, I just knew I was going to teach elementary and middle grade children to crank out fabulously entertaining stories. Wrong-o. I soon learned that the 45-minute to one-hour classes once a week were not conducive to teaching story writing, not if I was going to keep it creative. Many of the other writers at WITS were poets who used poetry in their creative classrooms. As I saw the writing generated from these lessons, I came to appreciate the use of poetry in creative writing in a way I hadn’t before. I’d always assumed since I wasn’t a poet there was no need for me to devote myself to it. I was accustomed to outlining stories, use of plot devices, and character development, but there’d been no place for poetry. Fortunately, my fellow-writers were more than willing to help and shared their lessons with me.

Cutting Carbs

So, over the years, ten plus now, I dove more and more into odes, cinquains, and free verse, teaching imagery, anaphora, personification, and the like. This style of creative writing better engaged my young writers and produced amazing results. Digesting smaller segments of verse was easier. It was much more fun to write about your shoes having a conversation with your feet, or how much love one feels for a banana. The one thing I hadn’t counted on was what a steady diet of poetry would do to my own writing.

When I say I went on a poetry diet that doesn’t mean all kale and quinoa. Quite the opposite. I found nuggets of deliciousness hidden in a single line that I would have used a paragraph to express before. Juicy tidbits soon replaced verbose, passive passages. And despite a feast of dainties, I’ve learned how to trim down my prose, to cut out those carb-ladened ing words and do away with empty calorie words like start, going to, and began. They’re pure fat and unnecessary. Like any other meal plan, a diet of poetry takes time and dedication. But I highly recommend finding the indulgence.

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