Rachel is impressively plugged in to the whole social networking phenomenon. I nearly fell over when she sent me the list of all the places where she had posted my essay. Her main blog is here. On livejournal, for your friends-listing convenience, she's raeputtputt, and you can find my essay on her lj here.
One of the funny synchronicities is that both of our essays mention Dr. Seuss as an important poet. I really enjoyed reading the story of poetry's place in her life and writing.
Poetry, for me, started with nursery rhymes. My favorite book of children’s poetry and nursery rhymes was The World of Christopher Robin by A.A. Milne. Mom also had us playing Scrabble and we were always making jokes using wordplay and puns when I was growing up.
That began a life long love of words to go with my love of stories. Words are more than utilitarian pieces of information. From these experiences I have learned that words are fun. With words you can play with meaning and sound. With words you can make the darkest information sound funny, and make the funniest information sound grave. Some of the best poets and storytellers have used these types of contrasts to great effect.
My favorite poets, after A.A. Milne, are Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), William Carlos Williams, Adrienne Rich, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. For all of them, the word does more than express meaning. The word does double duty as a physical sound or piece of rhythm to underscore what the poet is trying to communicate. For these poets, it’s not enough to read them aloud with that pseudo-intellectual beatnik rhythm that a lot of poets use these days. With these poets, the reader has to truly engage with the poem. They have to really think about where the stress is put on the words, what the rhythm of the line is, as well as what those words are and how they sound. For example, some Robert Frost poems should be read like Dr. Seuss (Blueberries, for instance). On the other hand, some Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams poems are probably best read while visualizing the Surrealists or certain types of animation.
I began writing poetry before I started writing stories. Poems seem easier, because they’re shorter, for the most part, than most fiction prose. But we all know how mistaken a notion that is. It can take years to get a poem just right. When explaining poetry to friends of mine who aren’t into poetry, I compare it to espresso or a fine liqueur. For me, good poetry is a distillation, a compression of as much flavor and emotion and meaning as possible into as few words as possible.
When it comes to how poetry influences my fiction, there are good and bad influences, depending on how you view them. On the one hand, because I tend to be wordy (having grown up a fan of Victorian/ 19th Century literature), poetry helps me work on writing in a more spare manner. I try to pack as much emotional punch into as few words as possible.
After I’ve dipped into some poetry, I come out thinking more creatively and cinematically. Many poems are about minutely describing a feeling, experience, or sight. When I write in this manner, it doesn’t always go over with the more prosaic reader who wants to read, “Felicia went for a walk” rather than “On a whim, Felicia passed out the back door, through the gate and down the path to the pasture.” It depends on if the reader is an action reader or a cinematic reader. And whether or not I’m doing it well. Again, practicing poetry helps me get this down better.
Poetry also helps me realize, like I said before, that it’s all about having a good time with my words. Sometimes I will write an alliterative sentence that I adore in a story, because I like how the words sound together, or I will experiment with the grammar and try to use ellipses or dashes because if Emily could do it, then so can I. And, sometimes that goes over with readers and editors, and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, either it’s the wrong reader, or I need to practice my poetry and try to do it better.
When it comes to the story accepted by Drollerie Press, I was influenced by an old Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy. It dates back to pre-Christian times and has some interesting verses. Whether referring to Christmas or Solstice or other winter festivals, the poems and songs associated with them are very energetic and sprightly. The Holly and the Ivy has that ancient energy of celebrating life during the darkest part of winter. I wanted to capture that in the characters in my story – that intensity and energy.
In the end, when I feel discouraged or disenchanted about my writing, I go back reading and writing poetry. It helps remind me of who I am.