Shortcuts to Storytelling

Sometimes I feel like writing a story.

I sit at my computer with a couple of ideas floating around in my head:  something twisted here, something perverted there.  Or, in a shocking twist from my usual fare, sometimes I want to venture out and write something light or funny, something that speaks to blue skies and never-ending happiness (I know, I know, but what can I tell you?  Sometimes I have my softer moments…but I digress…)

Yea, sometimes, I’m in the mood to write a story, whatever it may be.

But sometimes I don’t feel like going through the rigmarole of writing a long story (even a thousand words can feel long when you’re not in the mood).  There are days when it seems like it’s just too much effort or it’s going to take too much time.  When you’re a busy wife and mother, time is precious and trying to find those minutes can be hard to do.

So, what to do, what to do?  Write…don’t write…I could be plagued for an eternity by this dilemma…

Write…don’t write…

Fortunately for me, I discovered a solution to the problem:  poetry.

It’s not something that I do every day, write poetry, but it’s something that I’m getting into.    However, I’m not into poetry that functions to describe the one thousand different nuances of a cloud–that shit gets on my nerves.  Nor do I like poetry that endlessly, nonsensically, for example, talks about the random nature of a shopping cart sitting in the middle of a freeway while an old man blows his horn to the sounds of elephants marching by.  I don’t know what any of that could possibly mean, and it makes my head hurt trying to figure it out.

I’m sure there are some of you out there who know what I’m talking about.

Of course, there are people out there who will completely disagree with me on this point, but that’s okay.  I don’t doubt that there is a value to that kind of poetry for someone else, just not for me.  And although I would be the first to admit that I have used abstraction as a poetic device, at the end of the day, what matters for me in poetry is reason, logic, and sense in verse.

But most importantly, I look for a story in poetry, where there is a definite beginning, middle, and end.  I want to know what happened and why.

It’s been kind of a cool revelation for me—that I can tell a complete story using the brief nature of poetry.

As I write more and more, poetry has become another way for me to recount a tale.  It requires a different set of skills:  the ability to be brief and concise and demands that I have a breadth of vocabulary at my disposal to do so.  Further, it calls for a definite structure: plot, conflict, conclusion.  Certainly, I’m not describing anything new.  The poetry that I write is narrative poetry, or prose poetry.  But what I am noticing as I get into it is that it seems to be a lost art.

Edgar Allen Poe was a master of narrative poetry.  From such poems as The Raven to The Bells, Poe wove stories using verse instead of prose to spin his tales of woe.  It doesn’t hurt that those poems also tend to be dark and somber, which is right up my alley.  The darkness draws me in, and the rhythm and the skill of his pen keep me on the hook.  When I read his poems, I frequently feel like I’m on a journey, forever dark and treacherous, one that usually ends in despair.  But, as with any good narrative poem, I know why, I understand how I got there, and whether or not I like the conclusion, there is one.  And for me, that’s important.  The man has told me a story that is as good as any flash fiction out there, but with a great lyricism and rhythm.

For those of us who read poetry, clearly we read it for different reasons.  Some people do in fact want to know about all the many ways you can describe a cloud on dreary, rainy day.  That doesn’t do it for me.  Neither does the “random nature” of the meaning of life as seen through a shopping cart sitting in the middle of a freeway while an old man blows his horn to the sounds of elephants marching by.  Who could possibly give a shit about that???  (Okay, okay, I know that there is somebody out there who does, but it’s not me.)

But open the gates for me, show me the path, and lead me to the other side, and I’m there.

When I write my poetry, I am very often trying to show the progression of a situation or a circumstance.  This is no different than writing a story, but as I stated earlier, the difference is brevity.

One of my favorite poems by Poe is Annabel Lee.  He talks about his the great love between him and his wife, then her tragic death, and his anger at the heavens for causing his loss, and how he looks after her spirit even in death.  It has all the elements of a good plot, and it engages me as well as any other tragic love story out there—without the huge time investment or length requirements.

 

You know, there’s a naughty little expression that says that “It’s not the length of the wand, but the magic in the stick.”  I think that holds true when writing.  Prose doesn’t have to be long to be great (and let’s be clear, just because it’s long doesn’t guarantee that it will be) and poetry can be just as powerful as any story.

And that’s a good thing, because sometimes when I want to write, I just don’t want to write a lot.

EMJ

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