WARNING: Oh dear, bad language again.
There’s a reason why good writing courses will make you sample different types of writing and it’s because in writing, as with everything else, all is connected.
Now, I can understand your dubiousness because I am a terrible poet. I will freely admit that if I was to do a reading of my younger self’s attempts at poetry if there is any God they would strike me down for profaning literature, if there’s more than one it would be a massive crater. So I’m right there with you in the internal groan of: ‘Do I have to?’
Short answer: Yes.
Why is this? Because whether your weak spot is poetry, playwriting or prose you will learn something about your chosen form from every other one you try.
My favourite example of this is radio plays. Though I’m primarily a prose writer I love writing radio plays because it makes me think about sound and dialogue. In a radio play you have to create your entire story in sound alone which can be a serious challenge but when there’s only the character’s dialogue to paint the character with you really think hard about it. Everything about a character influences their speech whether it’s where they’re born or the job that they do and you have to get that on the page for an actor to interpret without the aid of long paragraphs of backstory.
It’s the same with writing a screenplay, which as a visual medium so it makes you think harder about writing imagery. You can’t paint by numbers how an actor will act your screenplay or a director will shoot it so when you’re thinking deeply about imagery certain things will pop out. For example when Mr Smith walks gets on a bus does he sit in the priority seats despite the rest being empty? Does he go to the back and sit as far from everyone else as possible? Or does he sit down and start chatting to someone he doesn’t know? In one moment you’ve got a character and you probably didn’t need more than a sentence.
So here I am lecturing you on the importance of trying these different forms and you’re probably wondering: ‘So, Jesse, what did you learn from poetry?’
Well, firstly, that I couldn’t write it but you probably gathered that. Secondly, the importance of the right word in the right place.
The might sound pretentious and pedantic but it’s true. Think of it in the most obvious way; say you have a character who likes to paint the air blue, Ms A, and one that doesn’t, Ms B. So when you’re writing from Ms A’s perspective you can drop F’s and blinds all over the place but then your swap to Ms B and… Well, Ms B is very angry but she isn’t going to call anyone a fucking wanker. What do you do there? Probably not call whoever Ms B is angry at a fucking wanker for a start, even if they are.
Think of Beckett’s use of language, even if you have no clue what he’s on with you’ve got to admit he’s got linguistic style. Or, Shakespeare who is often worshipped as Mighty God of the Theatre, there’s a reason everyone remembers Hamlet to being or not to being, because Shakespeare knew what he was at when he put pen to paper, eventually.
Yes, that’s right, for anyone who hasn’t sat through hours of degree level lectures on Shakespeare he didn’t always get the line right the first time. In fact Ben Jonson, another titan of the theatre, rather disliked Shakespeare because he didn’t write his plays to publish in a folio he wrote them to perform. What happened when the audience didn’t like something? He took it out and wrote something different until it was sharper than a serpent’s tooth. Sorry, couldn’t resist an obvious King Lear joke.
Hopefully you see my point. There’s nothing you can write that you can’t improve on by approaching it from a different angle whether it’s the pure sound of the radio or the frustration of poetic verse. Who knows, try another form and you might find you like it better.
Or you might just find out how much you really hate it.
P.S. I do read poetry, I just bloody hate writing it.
P.P.S. If you’re very unlucky I might dig some out one day and put it on here. Assuming it’s not been sucked into the black hole of Embarrassing Youthful Attempts at Poetry.
For more writing advice see my archive.