#inden {text-indent: 25px }

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Poetic Language

On WriterL, someone asked about when and how to get poetic language in your literary nonfiction. I groaned. The question conjures up all the bad poems written by current teens using Shakepearean language because they think that's what's meant by "poetic."

Poetic language should not be regarded as all lyric loveliness lain over a topic like flowers strewn over a coffin.

An immediate response came from someone who said that word choice is organic to a piece and can't be lacquered on at the end. I agree, but there's more to it than that. The language needs to fit the tone the writer decides on. In a poem you can achieve a certain effect by writing in a tone that is disparate from the topic--e.g., a playful narrator discussing death, or a dirge describing childlike antics--but for a long article or book, it's hard to imagine a writer pulling off this tactic. While much of that language happens when the work is going together, writers can--and should--go back to polish.

Just as narrative nonfiction borrows fiction's tools, it also should make use of poetry's devices, such as alliteration, assonance, allusion, meter, and internal rhyme. Start with a book called
Sound and Sense. It's a standard poetry textbook, and there's a reason it's still being recommended even though my copy dates from a college poetry class.

Read prose poetry. Read
Brevity; the pieces in this online journal of creative nonfiction are 750 words, max, and often read like prose poems. Read the poetic CNF works you'd like to emulate. Steeping yourself in all this language will help a little poetry seep onto your own pages.

Analyze the writing you find poetic. Poke around and underline and read out loud until you can identify what makes it poetic to you.

Write out poetic passages in longhand. Doing so puts those strong verbs, specific nouns, and grace notes into your brain in a way that sticks. Remember how Richard Dreyfus's character knows more about the mountain than anyone else in
Close Encounters of the Third Kind? It's because he made a model of it. What you learn with as many senses as possible hangs with you.

One thing that poetry has is
freshness. The words that are chosen, the way they're arranged, the mood evoked--in good poetry, there's a freshness that the reader appreciates. The words you use in a narrative don't have to be "pretty," and they shouldn't be obtrusive, but they can make your reader go, "Aaaah, nicely put."

category: craft


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm I love the idea behind this website, very unique.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks nice! Awesome content. Good job guys.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find some information here.

10:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home