The Poetry That Enriches Prose

Writers have a difficult mission put before them. It is their job to build and populate worlds with words. Many times, I marvel at the sheer volume of information that authors have to inject into their worlds as the build them—whether those worlds are mirrors of our own or are fantastic creations of their own design, it is nonetheless the task of the author, the creator, to fill that world with the depth and dimension of the real one we live in. In this way, the writer needs to be a sponge; everywhere he or she goes must be a learning experience. I often say that I feel outside of many events because I am writing them as I experience them, likewise I am also absorbing every nugget of trivia I can as it passes by me. Its simply part of being a writer.

While my wife often claims I’m not detail oriented, I remind her that I am merely preoccupied. What do I proclaim to be preoccupied with? The details, as it happens. Certain things in world building, character building, and plotting can’t be simply described or laid out. Some things require a talent, an innate qulaity, rather than a knowledge or trivial accumulation. As I reflected upon the fact that it is National Poetry Month, I naturally digressed in my thought process to prose and prose writing. It occured to me that characters of prose writers who are in fact poets, or plots and details that require poetry mandate that the prose writer be a poet. This is required if the poem or poet is a needed element of the story.

I feel like if this need cannot be met the author will often find be at an impasse. How can you write a story about a poet if you cannot write a poem to attribute to them? I think about how often this occurs in reading comic books, science fiction, and fantasy especially as those authors and creators almost by definition have to build worlds with fictitious histories, humanities, and trappings of all sorts.

I’m usually most impressed by the kinds of poetry that show up in those genres I’ve already mentioned (not to minimize the role of poetry in realistic fiction and other genres…but these are the genres near and dear to my heart) and specifically in Fantasy or Sword and Sorcery. Of particular note in those two areas are J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard—the pens behind the worlds of The Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian respectively.

Both worlds created by both authors rely heavily on the existence of mystical powers to make their fantastic plots work and in both worlds those powers are heavily linked to the power of words—verse and rhyme specifically. While not all spells, incantations, prophesy and the like rhyme they are by and large written in verse. This requires a skill not only with descriptive, engaging, and captivating prose but also with the mastery of poetry that must be on par with that prose.

Many authors, Howard and Tolkien included and especially, are so good at this it is actually off putting. As I read Lord of the Rings, for example I remember having to stop (many times for many reasons) just to take in the awesome depth of the language and its wide usage. Though, I suppose I should expect such linguistic mastery from a man who created languages in order to support his world…what’s a poem to a man who crafts whole languages?

In any event, sometimes for a effective prose the writer has to be the poet and though I am no poet I imagine the reverse is also true. A well rounded writer should be able to work in any element but those who do so with superior ease and craft are astounding to me. There needn’t be a distinction I suppose in writers of one specialization from writers of another but to see one so versatile in many voices always wows me. So in this National Poetry Month I’d like to take a moment to nod my head to the poetry that enriches prose in world building.


One thought on “The Poetry That Enriches Prose

  1. Like this thoughtful piece on the poetry of prose writers, the prosaic substance of poetry–sensibilties are linked. And you said it well. Tolstoy does this well in Anna Karenina.Theodore Sturgeon also writes about this when describing his origins. He aimed at the prose of the New Yorker, by default became a science fiction writer with a prosaic sensibility to the fantastic.  

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