I’m Not Really Here (a writer’s confession regarding poetry in her work)

January 26, 2012

concept, dream, dreamer, photography, poetry, quote


If you live firmly in the ‘real word’ how well can you write fiction?  Where does the poetry of it come from, when you’re feet are steadfastly on the ground? If you have a story idea and stick to the facts that brought the idea first to your mind, how free can you allow yourself to be, writing words, scenes, or dialog that will move folks? Writing that moves folks calls for more than just setting down bare factual lines, a bit of poetry is required.

As Walter Mosely wrote,

Poetry is the nexus for all writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, screenplays or plays. Maybe some poetry lives in a rarified atmosphere that leaves most readers a little dizzy. I don’t know, but I do know that a fiction writer must be able to breathe that air.

The mastery of language is our duty. We enter this world by placing one word after another in comprehensible and unique ways.

– W. Mosely, The Writing Life, Washington Post  11/20/05

It takes a moment of leaving yourself to really get a voice of your characters on the page. Being yourself, you’ll get a lot of ‘you’ in there until you let go enough to hear only them in their words. You have to allow yourself to not be there.

A lot of eye-rolling might have just happened with you reading those four paragraphs. Yes?

Of course.

You want to write good strong fiction – not poetical fluff. But think a moment of this example: a scene where a young woman, in the Navy, whose tried to hurt herself is now being moved from one Naval Psych facility to another one upstate. She’s been though a lot. She’s still confused and depressed and now the military is hustling her from one site to another. Can you get poetic with that scene?

Here’s one first draft attempt you might come up wtih:

Waiting, I know stand out from the other sailors. I’m smaller than the guys.  My four-day-old black eye makes the guys stare. Gauze on my wrists. Everyone in the row waiting all look the same in the same green hospital pajamas.

Here’s another: (this  bit is from my short story “Disappearance at High Noon’)

 If someone snapped our photo, I’d be the one who stood out from the other sailors; small and separate —the way your thumb does next to the rest of your fingers. My four-day-old black eye still draws looks. Gauze encircles both wrists. For once, my outsides are mirroring my insides.  That we all wear the same green pajamas makes the line seem like a row of fun-house mirrors reflecting one broken person again and again.


See the chance for poetry, even in non-poetical places?

Think about that poetry element after you’ve written your first draft. Take a long look at what you’ve got down, then leave the real world for that other place where poetry is found.  That’s what editing is for. Don’t be here with both feet on the ground.  Go.

Go there and bring back the gems you find.


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