April 5, 2016
Note From Rochelle
Over spring break, we experienced all of the seasons, including a drenching spring rain and a flurry of snow showers. I’m glad I didn’t pack up my winter boots! I did find a decent cache of poetry books—just in time for National Poetry Month. Today’s post will help you learn tools from poets for your own writing—whether you’re a poet or a technical writer!
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
What You Can Learn from Poets
by Rochelle Melander
This spring I’ve been doing an artist residency with middle school students. Each week, I read from The Crossover by Kwami Alexander—the Newbery Award-winning novel in verse, about 12-year-old Josh Bell, who plays basketball, competes with his twin brother Jordan, and wants to be just like his dad.
The students grumble about it: “Why are you reading poetry? It’s going to be boring! We never understand it.”
But when I read, the students pay attention. Still, the next time I bring the book, they complain: “More poetry? Why are you reading? Can’t we paint?” So I skip a week—and a student asks, “Why aren’t you reading that book anymore? I liked it.”
I read to students because when we read the best books and poems, we write better. And writers of all genres can learn valuable lessons from poets. Here are two:
Choose the right words
Poets don’t get thousands of words to tell their story, so they tend to choose the best words. Depending on what you’re describing, you might want a noisy or a quiet word. You might need a word that speeds up the story or slows it down. Choose wisely!
In The Crossover, Alexander opens the story with a hip-hop poem about basketball that begins,
At the top of the key, I’m
MOVING & GROOVING,
POPping and ROCKING—
Why you BUMPING?
Why you LOCKING?
Man, take this THUMPING.
Read it aloud. Can you hear how the word choices convey the rhythm of a basketball game?
Poets pay attention to life and use the smallest details to share big messages. No matter what kind of a story you’re telling, including details will convey your message and make your tale memorable.
In The Summer Day, Mary Oliver talks about a swan and a black bear before narrowing her focus to her encounter with a grasshopper. As she tells the story, she provides delicious details like these:
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Oliver moves from sharing these details about a grasshopper to wondering about prayer:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, …
And so do we…because Oliver has described her conversation with the grasshopper, we’ve learned how to pay attention, too.
Your turn: What writing lessons have you learned from reading and writing poetry? Leave your suggestions below.