The Narrative Poem

Recently, I’ve been questioning my role as a writer. The work that I thrive doing, what I define as prose, usually consists of me telling a story or deliberating on an argument. I wondered how the form that I love so much could translate into poetry, or rather, writing that pays much more attention to sound and shape on the page. Since narratives are my thing, I looked up what a narrative poem was.

According to Power Poetry, narrative poems simply tell stories. Most of the ones we know today, like Homer’s The Illiad and Dante’s Inferno, are super long! At times these texts seem dense. But it is through their poetics that they have retained standing in our society today. Perhaps for one of the poems I write in my final portfolio, I will practice this technique. I know that our class focuses on what makes up an image in a poem. But I argue that images can be created in the context of a narrative poem. Maybe it’s in the moment that shocks you the most? Maybe the image is resonant of the character that the poem wants to focus on the most.

Power Poetry outlines how we can begin to write these poems. What we must focus on is that our stories have three things: a beginning, middle, and end, or what constitutes the spine of a story.

In the same vein, I wonder what contemporary narrative poetry looks like. In “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment,” Tony Hoagland talks about the over-use of the self in narrative poetry, stating “it seems likely that narrative poetry in America has been tainted by its over-use in thousands of confessional poems.” Hoagland later goes on saying that narrative poetry does not fit the framework of our time! How is this possible? He argues that, “the new resistance to conventions of order represents a boredom with, and generalized suspicion of, straightforwardness and orchestration.” What in the world? How else are we supposed to get our stories across?

I think that one of the things that has intimidated me the most in our workshop is the fact that we all stray away from the conventions of narrative poetry, with a few people writing under this umbrella. I get the need for this kind of poetry — “to dismantle established systems of meaning, to recover mystery in poetry, to offer multiple, simultaneous interpretive possibilities for the energetic and willing reader to ‘participate’ in” (Hoagland) — but we mustn’t forget that other forms, that are equally as engaging, do exist. One of these needs to be the narrative. How else will I mend my voice? I’m all for the experimental, but I don’t think I’m there yet. I need to learn how to write a story first.

Going to test my hand at this and see how it goes! I hope this has inspired some of you to do the same.

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