Have you ever tried challenging yourself by writing poetry? If not, you are making a big mistake. Any writer can experience significant benefits when trying their hand at poetry. Poetry will test your skills and force you to become a better writer, a fact that is showcased by all the modern masters of the form.
Poetry Is Alive and Well
As the mainstream popularity of rap indicates, poetry is not just for literature majors. Don’t listen to what the haters say about rap being nothing but “talking over a beat.” The best rappers are real poets.
Take the lyrical skills of Eminem as an example. The lyrics of “Brain Damage” are tightly wound rhythmically and rhyme in brilliant ways while telling a story:
A kid who refused to respect adults,
Wore spectacles with taped frames and a freckled nose.
A corny-lookin’ white boy, scrawny and always ornery,
‘Cause I was always sick of brawny bullies pickin’ on me.
And I might snap, one day just like that
I decided to strike back, and flatten every tire on the bike rack.
The third line here is particularly skilled. It has three internal rhymes (corny, scrawny, and ornery) and features a skilled alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables. Blank verse allows Eminem and others to really get creative because it eliminates the demand of a strict structure and rhyming scheme.
Blank verse form originated in the work of Walt Whitman in the mid 1800s and remains influential today. It forgoes traditional rhyming and rhythmic structures and allows you to write whatever form that feels right for your needs. Many modern songwriters and rappers often use blank verse.
Here are a few high-quality rap albums that will get your poetic juices flowing:
“Me Against the World” – Tupac Shakur
“Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” – Wu-Tang Clan
“My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy” – Kanye West
“The Marshall Mathers LP” – Eminem
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – Lauryn Hill
“Pink Friday” – Nicki Minaj
Poetry Will Expand Your Writing Style
The technical flourishes required of poetry will make your writing more engaging. Rhyme and a robust poetic structure help to create a rhythmic flow that captures a reader’s imagination. For example, a simple poetic structure like haiku limits you by forcing you to stick to specific syllable lengths for each line: five for the first and third line and seven for the second.
Therefore, you need to work on your creative skills to meet these demands. After all, creating a coherent haiku in just 17 syllables forces you to cut to the quick of what truly matters. Here is one example, written by haiku master Matsuo Bashō:
An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
Other concepts, such as similes and metaphors, make your writing more vivid. For example, if you are writing an article about truck liner beds, you could say “the liner sticks to your bed like tree sap to your fingers” or that “the bed liner is tree sap on your truck bed.”
Dabbling in poetry has greatly enhanced my journey as a writer. While earning a Master’s Degree in Fiction Writing from Northern Michigan University, I took three semesters of poetry. Before I took those classes, I likely would have written a section in a short story or novel like this:
“The trees moved in the wind while the dog walked around their base. The owner, Margot, smoked cigarettes while trying to find a sweet spot that would let her make a cell phone connection. Ted was expecting her call and would be very angry if he didn’t get it.”
That section is a little too straight forward and boring to read. However, my experience with poetry has expanded my writing skills and inspired me to write in more interesting ways, such as the following:
“Margot watched the branches wave at her like Ted’s fingers, as he stood on the porch bidding her adieu last night. Like condensation on a bottle of water, her eyes were wet, the smoke in her lungs sharp, reminding her of the loneliness of love. Bailey, the dachshund, resembled her darting would-be prey, as she continued to chase one red squirrel up trees after another. A gaudy gift of passion, the canine a tapeworm to Margot’s intestines.”
I believe that the second example here is more interesting because it uses metaphors, similes, and light alliteration to draw the reader into a simple, but potentially interesting, story of confused love.
Poetry Can Bring More Fun to Your Writing
Poetry lets you experiment with style to create surprising new forms. One of the most famous examples is the poem “l(a” by e.e. cummings:
See how he split the word “loneliness” with the phrase “a leaf falling”? This structure reinforces the meaning of the poem, as the reader can imagine the lonely plight of a leaf falling from a tree. Experiments like this can make you a more vivid writer. For example, let’s say you are writing a short story about a man who is running from the law for a crime he didn’t commit.
This plot is rather simple, but you can make the story more interesting by adding experimental touches. Let’s say there’s a section where he is hiding behind a hotel door and waiting for the police to leave. You could experiment with structure in a way somewhat similar to this:
Harry opened the door and peeked out to see:
A hallway filled with celebrating people, clowns, an entire baseball team, a beautiful woman, a man walking a dog, and . . .
Harry closed the door when he saw the blue of the police officer’s uniform. After about five minutes, he opened the door and saw:
Kids running to the pool, mothers harranging their children, fathers holding lunch boxes, the same man walking a dog, a kid with a baseball cap and . . .
The door slipped shut again. The officer had yet to move.
This simple experiment pulls you into the story because you experience the opening of the door and see the people in the hallway along with Harry. Try out experiments like these to see what awesome concepts you can create!
Poetry Helps You Develop a Writing Voice
Whether you’re writing a content page about a Ford Explorer, detailing a blog about plumbing, or crafting a flawless short story, a personal voice sets you apart from other writers. Poetry is, perhaps, the best way to create a unique voice.
For example, you could use internal rhymes to get readers pumped and stumped about what you’ll say next. You could then use awesome alliteration to accentuate their appreciation of your allusions. Then, you could use similes to dazzle them like a major league pitcher throwing fastballs. Or your metaphors could be powerful arms, holding them tight and fast to the page.
While writing like I did in the above paragraph is a lot of fun, you don’t have to use so many concentrated poetic forms in one paragraph. Choosing what concepts work best for your writing style and spreading them throughout your writing like seeds on a field can enhance your work. Your preferences develop your writing voice. I have a natural affinity for similes and alliteration. Which forms will you use to become a poetry master?
The best thing about poetry is that anybody can try it out, create their own form, and express themselves in bold ways. Even if you don’t become the next poet laureate, you can use your poetry experiments to become a better writer. So get a pen and some paper and put down some verses!