How Poetry Can Influence Prose, and Vice Versa

Note: This was originally posted on 4/21/08 at the Scribes' Tribe Scribbings blog as part of an April poetry workshop.

I’ve learned to never throw any writing away – always recycle. Why? Because out of a bad poem may exist the plot of a decent short story; similarly, a strong descriptive paragraph in a scrapped fiction piece may be a poetic gem waiting to be unearthed.

quill.jpgSince I write both verse and prose, I often teeter on which one should be used to express an idea. One thing is clear: I fail miserably when I try to cram a 2000-word story into a twenty line poem, and I ruin plot development with ten-sentence paragraphs about the weather in the middle of a fiction piece.

Yet I cannot claim to control my muse, or tell it exactly what to create. Therefore, I continue writing and deal with this issue during editing. Often when I struggle with a poem, I may be trying to say too much within it. If I’m on the computer, this is when I “save as,” give the work an alternate title, delete all line breaks, put in standard punctuation, and then attempt to fill in the blanks that are naturally left vacant by poetry, but must be filled in to make prose. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it produces strong results.

One example is a micro-fiction piece that I wrote last year titled “Details of an Author’s Divorce,” published at an online magazine/blog called Six Sentences, where all the works are exactly (you guessed it) six sentences. This piece, which started out as a poem, developed into flash fiction. Its metamorphosis followed the aforementioned blueprint. The original version of “Details…” told the story of an author’s failed marriage through a free verse poem. It was an interesting concept, but the piece was clumsy and wordy. I put it aside, but then kept studying it periodically. It had too many vivid images for me to just discard it. So I deleted the line breaks, added transitions to give it a prose skeleton, and then started editing it as fiction instead of poetry. The first place where I submitted it promptly rejected it, which made me revise yet again – I discovered that I had edited a little too much out of the piece.

After some tinkering, “Details…” told the entire tale that was too lumbering to explain through poetry. I submitted it to Six Sentences and it was accepted; you can see the finished work at What makes it work (at least to me) is the richness of the description that’s derived from its poetic roots, coupled with the fiction structure that tells the complete story without it being awkward.

This transformation can also be performed vice versa, from prose to poetry. I’ll sometimes spot a paragraph in a draft of a story that drones on about the landscape, only to realize I’ve abandoned the plot during that paragraph. Once I cut out some of that imagery, I’ll often save it for another project where that level of description is needed. It may be another story, or I might toss in some line breaks and see if this descriptive leftover can stand alone as a poem.

I wonder if this is something others may have done. It has definitely become a key component of my process and a contributor to my development as a writer.