Sunday, March 25, 2018

Misha Burnett: Poetry for Writers: What Not to Read

As the ongoing conversation on prose style develops, many writers have been turning to the old advice of reading poetry. However, poetry has a diminishing part of the English language for years now, leaving a daunting task for those looking for an introduction to the art form. Where to begin?

Misha Burnett offers some advice to help narrow down that task;
This series of articles will be focusing on poetry strictly as an aid for developing a fiction author’s feel for composition and rhythm with an eye for producing more readable prose. Consequently, I will be discussing different forms on the basis of how they suit that end, and leaving aside the weightier issue of what is good poetry or (horrors!) What Is Poetry? 
With that in mind, I advise avoiding the following not because they are bad (I’ll be adding some of my favorites to the codex expurgatorius) but because they are not helpful. 
First, don’t read Blank Verse. 
I’ll be honest, if I were suddenly granted Godlike powers I would prevent any poet from writing Blank Verse until she or he could prove mastery of at least three different strict forms.  When Modernist masters (people like cummings, Eliot, and Pound) wrote Blank Verse they wrote in a way that concealed the deep structure (what Baudelaire called “the secret architecture”) of the poem. The rhythm of the language overwhelms the layout on the page. 
Modern poets, for the most part, write Blank Verse to avoid the bother of having any structure whatsoever, deep or shallow. They write Blank Verse not because it is an advanced way of using the language but because rhyme and scansion are hard work. 
Sadly, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between verse which is beyond formal structure and verse that is beneath it until you have a solid grasp of poetic structure. So I advise authors who are trying to learn how to use the structure of language in prose to avoid Blank Verse altogether. 
Second, don’t read Non-English Poetry. 
Unless, of course, you plan on writing prose in other languages. 
Check out the rest of Misha's article.

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