Poetry in Motions


I’ve been doing a lot of poetry recently. I’m not a great poet. I’m more the sort of poet who can find pithy rhymes for the words ass or nob. Is this a poetic skill? Perhaps not (although it does follow the reductive stylings of Swift and Wilmot). However, it often makes for some whimsical, if scatological, verses that make audiences titter.

Poetry is good practice for any writer. In a previous column (“Practice Makes Perfect”) I’ve stated that it’s good practice for an author to begin the day by writing a few haikus. Haikus help to focus our thoughts and train the mind to describe vistas and landscapes with the least number of words. Haikus are an exercise in discipline that hone a writer’s skill. Writing longer poetry – sonnets, ballads or free verse stanzas – is an effective way of producing a finished piece of writing in a short period time.

This may sound like a pointless accomplishment but there are times, particularly when we’re involved in longer works, that writers can benefit from the achievement of finishing something. When the end of a novel seems so faraway it might as well be on another planet, the satisfaction of finishing a poem can remind an author that we do sometimes reach the end.

Aside from the fact that poetry reminds me I can finish projects, one of the main things I enjoy about the experience is performing. I’ve read my poems to modest audiences and the thrill of receiving applause is nearly as orgasmic as the thrill of receiving sex.

Watching other poets read is an extremely satisfying pleasure. Between you and me, when it comes to reading their own work to an audience, most poets are akin to prostitutes with high libidos and low tariffs for gang-bangs. They want to do this for an audience and they want to make sure everyone enjoys the experience. All the audience has to do is turn up and get out of the experience whatever is being offered.

Fiction writers are of a similar bent. Give a fiction writer the opportunity to read their work to an audience and the majority will protest with lines like:

Oh! I couldn’t possibly read to an audience. I haven’t got anything prepared, except for these choice excerpts from my last three novels and a teaser for the one that’s due out next month, with advance orders already being taken…”

For a writer, reading to an audience is the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. The immediate reaction from listeners will tell an attentive author whether or not their words are conveying the intended meaning succinctly.

I’ve read work from my fiction where, for the first time, I realised that the passage I was reading from was littered with adverbs. Stephen King and Mark Twain have both expounded on the evil that is the adverb, so I won’t reiterate the point here. It’s sufficient to say that when I was alone, at home, practising my performance (ooh-err), I was appalled to discover there were so many adverbs in the piece I intended reading.

Naturally, my first thought was to blame the editor. Why hadn’t the editor noticed all these adverbs? Why hadn’t the editor killed every one of them? I thought of phoning the editor and complaining.

Before suffering the embarrassment of that phone call (“My writing is crap and it’s your fault!”) I grudgingly shouldered the blame and realised the reason there were so many adverbs in the story was not the editors fault: I was responsible.

I went ahead with the reading anyway, working on a copy of the published book that I had marked with a thick black pen. Those members of the audience who were trying to follow from their own unmarked copies looked a little puzzled. However, one of the great things about reading your own work to an audience is that none of the audience can tell you that what you’re doing is wrong.

For all those writers reading this, if you’re usually focused on full-length fiction, take the time to practice a little poetry. Poetry readings are a good way to practice your presentation skills for when you’re reading excerpts from you novel prior to a book signing. Poetry is a great way of gaining an immediate audience response to your work. And, poetry has a way of sharpening a writer’s talent.

Ashley Lister
May-June 2009

“The Write Stuff” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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