More Comfortable Writing Poetry than Prose???

Something I’ve been thinking about lately, now in my second consecutive semester of taking a poetry workshop (in other words thinking actively and often about poetry), is when one crosses the bridge from being uncomfortable with poetry to being comfortable with it. In a lot of my other English and Creative Writing classes, the majority of students willingly admit that poetry makes them incredibly uncomfortable—they don’t like reading it, and they don’t like discussing it.

I don’t know that I am wholly comfortable with poetry, either, but I do know that I enjoy discussing it, and even feel rather at home within the space of the poem. So, what happens when this level of comfort goes even one step further—when one becomes more comfortable with poetry than he/she is with prose? We learn prose first. We are taught to express ourselves via strategically constructed sentences which rely on the conventional use of syntax and semantics. Some of us become so comfortable with prose that we are able to manipulate it into art (which begs the question—is poetry just manipulated prose?). So at what point does one feel the need to abandon prose to write in verse—and feel more comfortable doing so?

I consider myself a CNF writer. I love the way that CNF can be both lyrical and prosaic. In fact, just a few years ago, the idea of writing poetry, and worse, having lengthy discussions which explore poetry, terrified me. Lineation was just a way to shatter my home of the sentence. Of course, a lot has changed since then—I learned to reconcile the sentence and the line. But recently, I had an experience which kind of terrified me. A few weeks ago, I had to write a blog post about John Gallaher’s reading for a class. It proved extremely difficult, trying to sum up that experience in a blog post of 300-600 words. While I was writing, I found myself thinking: Wouldn’t this be so much easier if I could just write a poem? Ignore grammatical conventions and just write about this experience as images? As soon as I thought it, I was horrified with myself. Did I just admit that it would be easier to express something via poem? So my question is: Why is this thought so terrifying? And have any of you experienced something similar?

4 Replies to “More Comfortable Writing Poetry than Prose???”

  1. Chloe,
    It’s funny you posted about this because I have really been thinking about this a lot. In fact, most of my close friends keep saying they suck at poetry, they’d never write it, they don’t understand it, they’re not good at it and I really don’t believe them. The reason I don’t believe them is because before I even realized that my most appropriate genre is poetry, I didn’t think I was good at it. I’d been writing poetry for a long time but didn’t even know that’s what it was. I think this is the case with many people. We initially look at poetry as this complex and intimidating thing which must not be touched but once we’re in it it’s so intoxicating that we stay. Let’s use a cliche swimming in the ocean analogy. It’s similar to swimming in the ocean because we are afraid before we step in it, and once we do it’s like we never want to come out. Swimming comes hard initially, but once we learn it’s more fun than ordinary walking. I mean, writing non-fiction is fun and all but it isn’t as expressive as poetry, I feel restricted to structure and narrative and sometimes, I don’t want to guide my readers! It’s exhausting! Poetry is hard sometimes, but it’s fun to figure out. Whereas in other genres, I’d be put off by hardship.

  2. Chloe & Carolina,

    YES. To all of this. I actually find myself feeling that way quite frequently: like I’m struggling and slogging and dragging my feet through the writing of some kind of creative prose, at which point I begin to wander into a poetic space that feels so much more comfortable and safe, and yes it does terrify me! I think that you bring up a great point Carolina in pointing out that (at least for me) I am certainly conscious of more of an element of guidance when writing prose than when writing poetry, and this is exhausting. Prose can be much more limiting in that it is very policed by it’s conventions, and I think that Prose can also be much more oriented towards the reader than the writer, where conversely poetry itself thrives on it’s freedom as a kind of writing, and is often very writer-oriented and protected.

    I think that part of the reason I feel more comfortable in poetry is because it’s really frustratingly, impossibly, difficult to try to say anything at all relating to the expansive, fluid, nebulous human experience in the highly structured space of prose. Prose is not only limited in it’s conventions (involving grammar, structure, presentation, and even subject matter), it can also have a feeling of finality to it, of self-containment, rigid and unchangeable. When I write in prose I have a tendency to over-explain or describe certain things because of what feels to me like the impossibility of the task of conveying comprehensive understanding within contained sentences. Poetry, on the other hand, lacks this sense of neatness or finality for me, there is some kind of a relationship between poetry and movement that is very continual and dynamic , and I think that it is in part this relationship that can be off-putting to my friends who are unfamiliar with poetry, as it requires that the reader be a part of the poem while they read it, it allows them the freedom to help construct the poem’s meaning as they go, and it also allows the poem the ability to be fragmented or incomplete much in the way that actual life can be. This is intimidating in a world in which we might more frequently interact with the more guided, structured, and contained world of prose.

    None of this is to say, however, that prose is not capable of being unguided, unstructured, or dynamic and so forth. I’m just trying to put into the words (which I am realizing is becoming more difficult as I go along – maybe I should be writing in poetry!) how poetry and prose feel like such different places for me, and why I feel more comfortable in the former. I do worry though sometimes about using poetry as a cop-out, a way to feed laziness when it comes to not even wanting to attempt to describe from within prose. Does anyone else ever feel the same?


  3. Chloe!!!!
    I just wrote about this in my last post! I feel as though I am more comfortable with poetry than prose. I honestly don’t know how this happened considering I was more of a fiction writer in high school.
    This semester I am in 2 poetry classes–workshop and Doggett’s Understanding Poetry–both of which I love. Doggett’s class has certainly changed my perspective on traditional/older poetry. I used to find it dry, and sometimes boring. But now that I know how to actually read it I love it.
    And with all my love for poetry comes my sadness about having to chose a different workshop for next semester. I’ve decided to go for fiction–which you can read more about in my most recent post–but I am concerned I’ve been too poetry focused lately. I’m definitely excited to try something new though.

  4. I don’t believe that someone can be more comfortable with writing poetry than or vice versa. I consider myself a fiction writer, unfortunately, but I believe that prose and poetry blend together for me. When I write poetry I find that I like to have a poem that has a start and an end. When I write fiction I like to include poetic language and play with the format. For me fiction, poetry, and even creative non fiction are all the same–the only difference is that the formatting changes.

    I hate grammar so much–you can tell by how my posts/comments lack grammar. And I totally agree with your statement of wanting to write something using images and not having to worry about grammar. I am writing a piece for my fiction class and I do find myself wanting to write a something poetic, and I did–I hope the class understands it.

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