This is the first of two short instructional posts inspired by Steve Weddle's interview with me, specifically the question, "Is poetry harder to write [than prose]?"
I answered that poetry isn't harder; it just has different goals from fiction. Prose—fiction or nonfiction, novel or short story, article or essay—proceeds more or less linearly from beginning, to middle, to end. In drafting prose, the writer focuses on fleshing out the details and the action. An increasing word count is considered progress.
The goal of poetry is to communicate the power of a moment, emotion, or viewpoint in as few words as necessary. There is some fleshing out, but much more time is spent choosing the right words to sharpen the image, to express precisely what you feel.
Prose writers are often taught to get ideas out in early drafts and refine those ideas in later drafts. Poets typically reach the refining stage much sooner. If you primarily write prose and find your poetry lacking, it may be because you're concerned with beginning, middle, and end instead of capturing your feelings in the moment. It may be because you've never warmed to the task of revision, a task essential to finding the right words for a poem. I hope this post helps you tackle what's holding you back.
Tomorrow, Prose or Poetry: Do You Have to Choose?