The Sexiest Words — the Relationship Between Poetry and Prose
I’m so excited to welcome Ashley Lister to A Hopeful Romantic. Ashley’s the man who would definitely know a thing or two about sexy words — poetry and prose, and I’m delighted that he’s going to share a few carefully chosen sexy words with us!
I’m a word nerd. I love to read words from the page and the screen. I love to savour the sound words make when they caress the ear. I love to appreciate the texture of words on the tongue. I can happily spend and invest and squander hours deciding which word is most appropriate for a specific situation.
Aside from being a writer I also teach creative writing. This means, when I’m not enjoying a day immersed in words whilst I write fiction, I’m having a day with students who are each fostering their own appetites for words.
During my free time I’m sometimes lucky enough to have writing colleagues ask me to blog with them. The superlative K D Grace asked me to visit here to discuss my opinions on the relationship between poetry and prose. I’m sure she picked that topic because she knows it’s close to my heart.
I believe the relationship between poetry and prose is neglected at a writer’s peril.
Even though a lot of my students have a strong desire to write fiction I always make sure I introduce them to poetry early on in my courses. I do this because I sincerely believe poetry leads the way to the sexiest words.
This is not a new opinion.
Back at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the philosopher, critic and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry: that is, Prose is words in their best order; Poetry, the best words in the best order.”
I have always agreed with this sentiment. You can call me materialistic but I think there’s not much sexier than experiencing the best. To my mind, introducing the standard of poetry into our prose should make everything we write sublime.
However, not everyone sees poetry in such positive ways. Some writers genuinely fear verse. I’ve seen talented multi-published writers cower from the prospect of producing poetry, convinced that it’s beyond their abilities or unrelated to their desire to write something engaging or entertaining. Perhaps there’s a streak of sadist in me, but I do enjoy watching people tremble as they try to manipulate words from outside their comfort zone. To me, whether I’m writing, teaching, blogging or producing poetry, that’s the seat-of-the-pants thrill of writing.
I was once trusted with the education of a class of computer programmers.
I was trying to teach them the basics of interactive narrative – the mechanics of writing fiction so they would have a better understanding of the dynamics of producing story-led computer games.
It was the challenge of producing poetry that had most of them close to sobbing with confusion and frustration. The reaction first came about during a lesson when we were discussing haiku.
For those of you unfamiliar with the haiku, the haiku is our Western interpretation of a Japanese form of poetry. The traditional Western method of writing haiku is based on a rigid syllable count for a three lined form: 5/7/5. (There are modern interpretations of the haiku, writers such as Jack Kerouac and Ezra Pound are amongst those who’ve taken the simplicity of the haiku and eschewed the rigid limitations of the 5/7/5 syllable count. However, the computer programmers in my class were writing to the restrictions of the traditional form).
I have yet to experience a more entertaining afternoon’s teaching.
I was dealing with a class of students who understood the complex inner-workings of computers. They had reprogrammed social-networking systems. They had written software to programme industry robotics. And they were sitting in my class counting syllables on their fingers and thumbs. They were arguing over the number of syllables in words such as hire, peel and sure.
The poems they went onto produce were good. The stories they went onto write for computer games were surprisingly well-considered. I don’t think they would have achieved such a level of considered work if they hadn’t been thinking about their output from a poetic point of view.
Poetry, I agree, does not work for every writer. Some people enjoy the challenge but others find it too daunting. However, it can’t be denied that poetry gets writers to consider the words they use in ways that are wholly different from the way a writer selects words for prose. And if poetry can get writers to reconsider their word choices, then it’s more than valuable: it’s invaluable.
Ashley Lister is one of the regular contributors at the Dead Good Blog (http://deadgoodpoets.