“Fiction writers should read poetry for two reasons…First, poets often write epiphanies, and beautifully so. Second, poets choose one image and really rely on it to stain the reader’s mind.” — Juliana Baggott in the January 2016 The Writer
I read poetry often. Not as often as I’d like, however. Years ago, I would begin my writing day by reading poetry aloud for about fifteen minutes. It did something to my brain, made it more open and fertile for my fiction. The poetry signaled my imagination that it was time to play.
It doesn’t matter, either, what poetry you read. It can be really old or really new. Rhyming or not. I’ve learned to be open to everything when it comes to poetry. Yes, I have my favorites, a sampling:
“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians….”
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/ And sorry I could not travel both….”
“Dance like a jackrabbit/ in the dunegrass, dance….”
“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/ It isn’t just one of your holiday games;”
“At five in the afternoon./ It was exactly five in the afternoon./ A boy brought the white sheet/ at five in the afternoon.”
The poets are (above, in order) Homer, Robert Frost, Grace Paley, T.S. Eliot, and Federico Garcia Lorca. And there are many more, some of which I have yet to discover. Some with powerful narrators, others with a penetrating, haunting atmosphere or story.
I read poetry to take me out of myself as close to instantly as is possible. Poetry contains insights into existence with the economy of a meaningful look or gesture, a sigh or a moan. But I especially love to read poetry because of its music — read it out loud! — in the sound of its words and the rhythms of its lines. Long poems, short poems, free verse or not. All of it sings.
Poetry primes my mind like an invitation to a party. To write, to create, to dance with the characters that come to visit. The rhythms, seeing the arrangement of the words on the page, hearing the sounds — a really good poet can create an entire world in four stanzas.
Writers encourage other writers to read voraciously, write something every day, to live their lives fully and to be observant. I would encourage writers to listen to music and read poetry out loud…for much the same reasons. Leave your daily concerns on the couch, at the office door, or in the kitchen. When you sit down at your desk to write, bring an open mind ready to play. I can think of no better primers for that than music and poetry. For me, especially classical music.
Each writer needs to find his or her way to open all the mind’s windows and doors to beckon imagination to come out and play. What do you do?