An obvious statement: writing poetry and writing fiction are certainly not the same things.  True, one can influence the other, but in the end, if you approach writing poetry with a fiction mindset, the result will leave a lot to be desired.   Poetry, despite what a high school english teacher may have told you once, is the purest sense of  “language art.”  It is not “therapy,” and it’s not the be all and end of a writings “feelings” at a given moment.  In a sense, that false perception has fooled many of a would-be poet, and the results can be widely read across the internet.  What poetry actually *is* can be saved for a different post.  To cut it short: it’s the creative use of language, sound, and metaphor; how that takes shape can be as vastly different as metrical forms, free verse, and avant garde work like Language Poetry and Oulipo contraints.   You can do anything with poetry.  You can’t with fiction, as fiction is tied to narrative and story telling.  Those are the ends of the spectrum, so to speak, and sometimes some writers fall in the hazy in-between.

It’s been interesting to keep this in mind, at least for me.  Recently, I decided to take up a rather foolish errand.  I thought I would write a long poem/sequence.  Part of this is a need for redemption.  I’ve had no problem publically stating, in the past, that I HATE my MFA thesis.  It was supposed to be a novel-in-verse, and the result seemed to be a meandering wishy-washy group of pieces that really didn’t seem to have any inner cohesion.  So, some writers have left graduate school with a finished book in hand.  I didn’t.    Instead, I tried to leave poetry behind and write genre fiction.    But, silly me–somethings you can’t walk away from, especially if you’ve spent years of study.  The recently anthology I editted and turned in to my publisher reignited that interest.  So here I am, again, back at the fool’s errand (Because, after all, poetry sequences are about the most least lucreative things one write.  Poetry doesn’t make money in general, and most people rather publish collections than overly ambitious longer works).  Still, writing is a learning and discovery process.  In the likly event that my current project remains unpublished, I’ve found that there have been other rewards.  Everything one writes, if one remains a constant student of craft, offers a chance to have learned something.

So, in getting to 55 pages so far, here’s what Wood Life (pictured above) has taught me about the boundries between poetry and fiction.

  1. A poem is not a short story, therefore a long poem is not a novella/novelette.   One can relax their attention to pacing, so long as the sequencing of poems makes rational sense.
  2. Poetry is about voice,  and that further reinforces the above.
  3. While all the fiction conventions may not pertain, they certainly help in instituting a sense of order.  The idea of a narrative frame, even if loose, can keep the longer poem readable.
  4. While poetry is not fiction, a strong sense of character (and who they are) helps not only the persona conveyed in a poem, but the quality of the speaker’s voice.
  5. When writing a sequence, it’s a lot harder to write sections or parts that can stand alone as poems in and of themselves.  Like short stories, individual poems can be gathered into a collection, and then sold to a publisher based on their caliber of where those poems were previously published.  That’s why marketing a longer, stand alone project is much harder.   Sure, A.R. Ammons was able to get sections of Garbage and Tape for the Turn of the Year into reputable journals, but that was long after he established his reputation.    A publisher will likely look at a younger, unproven poet, standing on their doorstep with a hefty epic, as if they’re a crazed, deranged lunatic.  You want me to read what?

I’ll add more if I think of it.  But,it’s kind of nice to get all of that out of my head.