Poetry, Prose, and Paragraphs

I have always been drawn to classic poetry. It is much more restrictive, when you are writing in a specific rhyme scheme, meter, length, or style. Your only freedom is the words you choose, and a less than precise use of punctuation. Yet, the poetry that meets those restrictions has always been the hallmark of excellence for me as a reader. In the rare cases, where I have endeavored to write poetry to a standardized form, upon completion there is a greater sense of accomplishment. It seems harder when the words are not a haphazard pouring out of thought, with colorful imagery, emotional word choices, and little underlying structure. Yet for every great poem that has kept rhyme and cadence true, I can show you one that has eschewed those bindings and still touched the heart of their subject matter in a real way. Modern free form poetry requires no meter or method. Even rhyme scheme can be less precise. And there is a place for that style of writing too, because moving words are moving words regardless of how they end up on the page. I enjoy this style of writing more than the work formal poetry calls for. And I feel the freedoms help me to better convey the emotions I am seeking to evoke. But it doesn’t feel like the accomplishment some other writing does.

Then when we are ready to alleviate even the slightest hint of poetic rhyme or scheme, we turn to prose. Prose is a form or technique of language that exhibits a natural flow of speech and grammatical structure. Gone are the trappings of verse. This is likely my favorite form of writing. It is the rampant jotting of ideas and thoughts seeking expression in the same manner I would speak. Polishing, editing, crafting is not wasted here, as we look to share our conscious stream of thought. Not that there isn’t considerable work put into word choice, imagery, metaphor and the like. But they are additions to enhance, rather than restrictions that limit. But there is not a clear line between these two styles. T. S. Eliot noted, while “the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure”. With free verse and prose poetry, everything less than technical writing seems to be on a spectrum of ways to compose language.

But hardest, by far, is writing the “paragraph”. The conveyance of information with all the restrictions of grammar, spelling, syntax, context, and punctuation. How you learned to write your language in school. Poor language skills cannot not be written off as poetic license anymore. We must dot our ‘i’s and cross our ‘t’s. This where the polishing, editing, and crafting kick in. Reading and rewriting passages for clarity, brevity, and impact. Spending great time to insure my correctness of language. It is the largest set of restrictions on expression. But it does not stop expression. There is still opportunity to take your reader on a journey. You can still evoke emotion, convey a sense of wonder, describe the intangible, paint a beautiful scene, share a sound, touch a heart, and make a smile. Poetry and prose alone do not hold the only map to expression. The only real difference is that, although every word of poetry or prose is meant to create such an emotional response, not every paragraph is. It is the type of writing we see all day, in everything from technical manuals to newsprint. Not always thought-provoking or emotional, but always correct. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be. It still has, at its disposal, all the tricks of the trade. Metaphor, simile, aptronym, phantonym, synonym and others are all available to provide the same nuance, suspense, humor, and emotions of any other written word. It may never be as colorful as poetry, but it doesn’t have to be colorless. But there is a definite line between this and poetry or prose.

There is, however, some other reading available that is not poetry or prose, but does not meet the perceived standards of grammar, syntax, spelling, or punctuation that standardized writing requires. For many writers I read, for whom English is a second or third language, my schoolteacher mother could red ink the pages to death. Their language is broken, often unpunctuated, full of spelling and grammatical errors. But that does not keep them from conveying any less than any of the above. They are still able to express their thoughts with some clarity and always with vision. Restricted by nothing, they attempt to pass on what they seek to share with their reader. And that is how best to measure any writing. Success is connecting with your reader, no matter the path you took to get there.

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