Thursday, March 22, 2012

This and That Thursday: What I Learned from Poetry

One of the first writing books I ever read gave this advice: Write a sonnet every day. The author said it would help with rythmn and meter as well as learning to zero in on one topic. I've always loved reading poetry, tried my hand at writing the lovely verses a few times, so I decided to give it a try.

After one or two pathetic sonnets, I gave up. Writing poetry is not my thing. But, even though my venture into writing a sonnet a day flopped, it still rendered a good result. It spurred me to try to fill up on those magical verses when I get a chance, all the time gleaning from the masters.

So, for This and That Thursday, I will share one of my favorites with you. There are way too many awesome poems to choose from, but since I write romantic tales, I'll share a love poem. (And keep reading till the end to find out the major lesson I learned from studying poetry.)

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love,
-- Christopher Marlowe

Very romantic, don't you think?

Okay, here's the main lesson reading poetry taught me. If you notice, this poem is replete with real images--valleys, groves, hills, fields, etc. It's about the most romantic love, but it doesn't say things like, "I love you so much." Or "I just feel so in love with you right now."

Instead, Marlowe paints a picture using concrete visual prompts to create the emotional connection--and it's much more powerful that way. All my favorite poems employ the same tactic: "My Love is Like a Red Red Rose," "The Tyger," "The Lamb," "Love's as Warm as Tears," "Dappled Beauty." Each one of these yummy morsels grabs its reader using clear, palpable images.

So, in all my writing (fiction and nonfiction) I try to use solid images instead of fluffy emotionalism. It's more powerful, and, well, I like it better.

What are your favorite poems and how have they affected your writing? I'd love to hear!


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