Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. — Plato
We know nothing about poetry. Or we know everything! Hey, isn’t poetry the most natural human response? I oscillate from one response to the other. Two-thirds of my published writing of over 200 pieces, is prose, and yet, my debut chapbook will be a collection of poems! I guess it’s not as much a surprise to my editors as it is to me, because I’ve consistently been told my prose is “rhythmic” and “lyrical”. Only recently did I discover (and explore in my trampset columns) how prose and poetry aren’t as delinked as I thought. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner influenced Mary Shelley’s imagination. Michael Ondaatje, Sri Lanka-born Canadian novelist, began his career with poetry (The Dainty Monsters, 1967), but is better known as the author of the acclaimed novel The English Patient (1992). Here are 10 things prose writers may not know about poetry and vice-versa:
1. “Poem” comes from the Greek poíēma, meaning a “thing made,” and a poet is defined in ancient terms as “a maker of things.” So a poem is a thing made. Prose comes from the Latin “prosa oratio,” meaning “straightforward.”
2. The longest poem in the world is Mahabharata, an Indian epic ‘narrative’ poem which has around 1.8 million words. Kisari Mohun Ganguli was the first to translate the Sanskrit epic into English. The complete translation was published in Calcutta between 1883 and 1896.
3. Poetry is a dispatch. Poetry suspends time. Fiction never happened. Poetry happened many times over. If it’s a poem, the poet must have experienced it. Well, that’s public perception! Readers tend to identify with poets a lot more than fiction writers, and everything they write must have happened, of course!
4. If you are a poet, you’ll always be a poet. Poets are the ones who see the truth first. They won’t let the world sleep. It is the love of the language, greater than anything else, and words of empathy and sensitivity.
5. Studying poetry makes you a better prose writer, according to one study. Among the things it lists (as you get to learn from studying poetry): a) Rhythmic structure b) Vocabulary, formal words vs. colloquial words c) visual imagery d) sense of sound without reading aloud
6. Identity/self as a theme in poetry isn’t new or contemporary as believed. It existed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Contemplative musings have centered around questioning one’s place in the society and/or identity conflicts. However, one aspect of such poems that have gained recent popularity is the element of angst, sense of injustice, and rousing call to action. Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”, for example, ends with: I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.
7. Villanelles originated from Italian and Spanish folk songs with country or rustic themes and accompanying dances The popular poetry form Villanelles are built around one or more refrains, which means entire phrases get repeated throughout the poem. This makes them more song-like than most other poems, but also more repetitive. Successful villanelles are extremely rare due to the immense weight placed upon the refrains, which must therefore be strong enough to carry an entire poem on their own.
8. A short narrative poem that uses stanzas is called a ballad. Earliest ones were recorded before the Greek alphabet was invented, around 800 BC. Ballad is a sub-group of narrative poem. A narrative poem is a poem that tells a story. Another definition of ballad is a popular narrative song passed down orally. They are memorised by heart, tell heroic, tragic or dramatic stories, rhyme beautifully, and are set to music. For example, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
9. 66% OF POETRY BOOK BUYERS ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 34 According to one reading statistics, 66% poetry book buyers are under the age of 34. It follows, poetry on topics relatable to young people in their 20s and 30s sell more. Themes that address love, death, restlessness, beauty/desire, body, identity/self, resonate with most poetry fans.
10. Novel and short story collections have lost out in recent trends of adult reading habits, but the popularity of poetry collections has risen, according to recent data available, shows a Submittable study on publishing industry trends. Poetry happens to be genre du jour among people of color at the moment.
Hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re a writer undecided between prose and poetry, I suggest you do both!
As always, Happy Reading, Happy Writing. Please share this article so others may enjoy it and subscribe below for more posts like this. Thank you!