Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such Nashville Office
Weather: Low 70s and Lovely
The essence of my ruminations on poetry is how it can enliven and engage readers in our other writing, particularly fiction. I’m reading Brenda Vantrease’s The Heretic’s Wife, a new fiction title set in England as Tyndale was being persecuted for having translated the Bible. Aside from being compelling and well-plotted fiction, the writing has so many poetic phrases, e.g., “The smashed press . . . hulked like some great squat beast,” and “the constant clamor of polyglot curses and riotous greetings, the sounds of rolling carts on cobblestones and the jangling of harness bells.”
Note the way the choice and rhythm of words re-enforce their meaning and sound in reality–the very things poets and good fiction writers strive for. Poets may work a little more with the melody of the words, while fiction writers work with the pictures they create in the mind. But both appeal to the imagination.
We can keep the same things in mind for contemporary fiction. We look to the place, the time, and the nationality and speech patterns of our characters, and then let them set the tone for the words we write.
A helpful exercise when you’re writing fiction is to read poetry written at about the era and on the same theme as your novel. For example, if you’re writing a contemporary murder mystery, reading a sonnet such as Jay Rogoff’s “Murder Mystery 1” can get your juices rolling. Here are the last six lines:
The poet, crammed into his seat with bright/lights blinding, when interrogated, said,
“I don’t know what you mean.” A lie. The light/was brightened, handcuffs clamped. He stood and read
a poem. Finished, he sobbed, “We used to fight./ I’d never kill her. But I’m glad she’s dead.”
There’s a suggested plot for you! In their excellent Creative Writer’s Handbook, 3rd ed., Jason and Lefcowitz include three chapters on poetry before they treat fiction and drama. First things first, I guess.