Eureka! On Poetry

I was about to try to write a blog post, and then I get this bang. Right in the face! And then I wrote the first poem I’ve written in years. I need to write more poetry, if for no other reason than to practice my prose.

I honestly do feel that there’s a lot that poetry can teach prose writer. Of course, prose doesn’t need meter or stanzas, but even practicing these can help you write better prose. Far more than flash fiction, poetry values conciseness. Every word has to punch imagery and visceral experience into your gut. Every word has to make the text come alive for you. But when you write prose, it becomes easy to forget that imagery and metaphor that paints a scene into something vivid. Without it, prose is airy and bland.

Mastering meter means adding a rare element to your prose: musicality. Musicality modifies the tone of any prose piece, much like a musical score modifies the tone of a movie. Becoming aware of it can help you to add a next layer of meaning to your story. There’s a reason that Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta respects the letter V, and it’s not just because it’s in the title. It’s the character’s soubriquet, it’s the Roman numeral representing the number five (for fifth of November and the room that V was kept in), and it means virtuous vengeful victory. It also looks like the outline of an arrow, the point directed down towards the people. The people are both the target of totalitarianism’s arrow and the direction where the true power in the state lies.

Just imagine—your piece of literature could be the subject of this level of academic scrutiny! All you have to do is acquire the invaluable ability to alliterate adeptly.

Practicing poetry-writing can help you develop good habits. For example, you’ll step into a new scene immediately concerning yourself with setting and how it affects the emotional mood of the scene. You’ll focus on using words that add to the mood that you’re trying to create (e.g., “The prince rode a stallion”—not mustang—“into the ballroom," but "the prince rode his mustang over the cliff."). You’ll learn to use consonance to modify the mood when something different happens (e.g., from “the princess lowered her head in greeting” to “the knight’s dagger clinked against his belt buckle when he ripped it from its sheath.”). You’ll do this all the time, and not for only a few sentences while you’re specifically trying to make a point!

Clearly, I want to follow my own advice—and I have in the past! But I want you to do it too! I’ve seen it do wonders for others’ writing. And if nothing else, you learn more about the most ancient form of writing known to man (aside from tax records and vulgar graffiti).

Take a course online, like one from The Great Courses. This one, “Lives and Works of the English Romantic Poets” with Dr. Willard Spiegelman, is a good start and a study of one of the most influential periods in history of English literature. Then take a college course and go further! Or, just look stuff up on YouTube or Wikipedia. Educate yourself.

Until you get there, I’ll start you off with “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

"Needles"

He touches the sharp tip against his finger, testing the needle. Perfect sharpness, perfect width. He reaches down at the sniveling, gagged girl and slides up her dress. So pretty. So young. He presses the needle against her thigh and slides it in. He pulls on the plunger, letting her sweet blood fill the barrel. She whimpers through the gag. He smiles at that.

He’s nearly emptied her before he’s done. He looks happily into his bag. He’s collected plenty of vials of the virgin’s blood. The vampire junkies that buy this stuff from him will pay a king’s ransom for only a taste. Meanwhile, he knows he’ll eat well as long as he can keep her well-fed.

And if he can’t, or if she grows too troublesome… well there’s more than enough elementary schools in the country.

"Transform"

“It hurts,” Beverly said, looking up through the grated metal panels over her eyes. Her vision was blurry from the drugs. Mommy knew best though, so she struggled as little as she could against the leather straps cutting into her wrists and ankles.

“Of course it does, sweetie. But this is how you’ll win.” Mommy held up the struggling rooster. It fought, its claws tearing bits from Beverly’s naked belly. Then Mommy slit its throat. She shook the flapping cock over Beverly’s naked body, letting the blood scatter over her and mix into the cuts on her arms and legs.

Beverly reacted with muted sobs and soft whines. “I don’t feel so good. I think I’m gonna throw up.”

“Well, if you’re gonna throw up, make sure to swallow. The surgeon will be here any moment, and you can’t be rude.”

“I don’t wanna do this anymore.” She struggled harder, barely able to move now. Her limbs were weakening as her life’s blood poured more and more quickly from her arms and legs over the grooves in the table she was lying on and into the gold cup.

After a few more moments, she didn’t feel anything anymore. Beverly’s eyes rolled back and she let out a deep, long sigh.

Mommy picked up the cup, brimming with her daughter’s blood, and held it up. A man with pale, waxy skin that was stretched and warped and stitched over his face like wrappings stepped out of the shadows. He wore a blood-drenched doctor’s coat. His fingers were long and his nails were sharp as scalpels. He blinked, his eyes squinting behind flaps of tightly stretched flesh. He grinned a lip-less grin, showing off teeth as white as porcelain that each looked like they had come from different mouths.

The surgeon, took the cup and said, in a soft, whispery voice, “She’s going to be beautiful when I’m done with her.” And he drank from the cup gratefully.

"Revenge"

I clamp down my teeth. Sweet, succulent rage. Lust for revenge. I lust too…for the lust of it. He rubs the side of his head and thinks about her. The woman he wants to strangle to death with his bare hands, whose bones he wants to feel crack under his clenched fingers. He thinks about the lies she told and it makes his insides hot and his outsides sweaty. I coil my tail around his neck to keep from slipping off.

I suckle on him as he thinks. I want him to feel it all. But I try to be delicate, to suck softly on his neck as he watches through the closet blinds. He sees them now, his wife and his wife’s lover, writhing and twisting and throbbing at each other. Every moan they exclaim makes my meal shudder with fury. I lick at his ear. I want his rage unbridled, loosed, freed.

Pleasingly, his fingers slither into his pocket and wrap around the handle of a gun. I slurp happily as I hold on tight by the teeth to the back of his head. So sweet. So very sweet.

"Imaginary"

I didn’t finish tonight.


I had the dream again last night. I woke up on my bed, which someone had apparently placed while I was sleeping in a field of lavender. The flowers’ perfume mingled with the smell of a rotting carcass in the distance. With a mixture of disgust and curiosity I was compelled to search for the  offending stench. I finally found it–a torn, mangled, and gutted doe being fed upon by millions of grubs and maggots, stomachs bulging under their pus-colored flesh.

I woke up with the overwhelming need to throw up, but despite my strained heaving at the toilet’s edge, I couldn’t summon forth anything more but phlegm and spit.

I had no idea what it meant, but I know that I was starting to have trouble with the smell of lavender, which was especially bad considering that I’d been working at Miss Gertrude’s flower shop for some four months. Miss Gertrude–an old woman who insisted on being called “miss” despite her age and the fact that she was still married, albeit to a man who had been catatonic for some seven years–loved the scent of lavender and enjoyed sprinkling all of her bouquets with it, and some gypsophila to break up the intensity of the colors.

During the mid-winter months, Miss Gertrude spent more and more time away, tending to a tulip garden that flourished only when the soil was cold. I was left to care for the store. To give my nose some respite, I rearranged the bouquets, ordered more gypsophila than lavender, and sprinkled the shop with carnations–a delicate smell that my nose found far more pleasing than prickly lavender.

But the smell of rot would not go away. In fact, like a mold it spread into my waking hours, and even in my dreams began to blend with carnation until even that silky scent began to test my gut’s ability to hold its meals.