Poetry can be a gateway to “getting” prose.

I’m teaching a section of “Introduction to Creative Writing” at MSU this semester and was invited to speak on a panel with fellow instructors about teaching the class.  The panel was in a graduate-level class full of peers learning how to teach “Intro,” and they asked a lot of good questions.  One question in particular, why I structured the class the way I did, struck me in terms of how my own awareness of what is good writing has expanded in recent years.

I’m teaching this class poetry first, then fiction, and I set it up this way for a multitude of reasons.  For starters, last year saw me working in poetry classes, and I saw no reason to let so many great poems and examples fresh in my brain go to waste.  Second, I feel more confident in fiction and wanted to savor it in the second half of the semester rather than “get it out of the way” at the outset.  But most importantly, it’s because I feel many young writers approach poetry assuming it could / does contain central images, metaphors, specific language choices, “hidden” meaning, etc.  On the other hand, I feel less young writers approach prose with this idea in mind, never getting past the thought that a story is “just a story,” when really it could be so much more.  By discussing poetry and its elements first, students are able to keep those skills under their belts while approaching prose.

I think what we read (and what we write) should be diverse, and there’s no reason a little poetry shouldn’t be a part of that spectrum.  Knowing how to read poetry serves to open the world of prose so much beyond a notion of it’s “just a story.”  If one avoids poetry because they “don’t get it,” I wonder if they consider whether they’re really depriving themselves of a possible gateway to “getting it” altogether.  So don’t leave poetry out in the cold, or you may leave your ability to read / write great prose in a frozen standstill.

I’ll recommend some poems and poetry collections I enjoy in another post.  In the meantime, dear reader, see what you can find on your own and give it a fresh chance.
-nm

[tags]poetry and prose, teaching creative writing, language choice[/tags]

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