At the beginning of this year, my boss suggested that I take a poetry class. I laughed, then realized he was serious.
I have always written nonfiction—business books, blog posts about life lessons, writing I thought was practical. I thought poetry was just for mysterious literary writers. But I was wrong.
Secretly, earlier this year, I began to write poetry. (Don’t tell my boss, though.) Since then, I’ve found that not enough writers write poetry, so here’s why you should.
What Is Poetry?
I used to think poetry was one of two things. It was either the kind of writing Shakespeare did, which required following a formula and counting each syllable; or it was a few lines that ended with words that rhymed, like The Cat in the Hat.
I’ve come to find that poetry is more than syllables and rhyming. Poetry is actually defined by the OED as literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.
That means poetry can be almost anything. It simply needs to be writing that expresses feelings and ideas with style and rhythm. You can do that.
So then, why?
Why Write Poetry?
So many writers avoid writing poetry. Here are three reasons why you should take the risk and write it.
1. To Deepen Your Understand of Language
Poetry forces you to search the language for the perfect word. Instead of saying how someone “slowly walks through the door,” you might instead say they “enter casually.” In poetry, you must choose each word carefully, as it has to fit with the rhythm and style of the whole piece.
Writing poetry requires you to express a thought of feeling almost melodically, making the words on the page invisible. The only way we develop this style and skill is to practice.
Try and fail and succeed and keep writing.
Write poetry because it will force you to deepen your understanding of language and how you use it.
2. To Learn to Break the Rules
I often think that rules are in place to be broken. While our editor may disagree, I believe a sign of great writing is not just breaking the rules, but learning to create your own. That’s how rules are created in the first place.
In poetry, you are allowed to break more rules. You’re allowed to use grammar to create a rhythm, not just to separate dependent clauses. You are not bound to a certain length for poetry, either. Some poems can be as short as a few words, while others, like The Illiad, are hundreds of pages.
(This is not an excuse to not know or break all of the rules. They’re there for good reason. We need them. We also need to not take them so seriously if we are to become great writers.)
3. To Write Better Prose
The greatest reason to write poetry is because it will make all of your writing better. I promise you.
Poetry gives you a deeper understanding of the language and it allows you to see your writing differently. Poetry enables you to express yourself and your ideas better.
Take Shakespeare for example.
Shakespeare began his career as an actor and a playwright. In the middle of his career, in 1593 & 1594, the theaters were closed due to the plague. During that time, Shakespeare began to publish poetry.
After these two years, Shakespeare went back to writing plays again, but something had changed.
Previously, Shakespeare had written mainly comedies and histories. After taking the time to write poetry, he wrote dramas and tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. These later works are considered some of the finest works in the English language.
If you’ve never written poetry, it can seem like a daunting challenge. Don’t be intimidated.
We too often limit ourselves in our writing. What we ought to do is press ourselves to become better writers, and we do that by writing what we’re scared to write.
Have you ever written poetry? Has it made you a better writer? Let me know in the comments below!