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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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What is Poetry?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My friend Christian once wrote this:

"I truly think that learning to write at least half-decent poetry is a major step toward writing excellent prose. You can write good prose without being able to write poetry, and you can likely get toward excellent without it, but I can assure you that being able to write poetry hugely improves your ability in prose."

He didn't really explicate this statement at the time but I recently discovered why this was so. It came about partly because I was writing my own poetry and partly because I was teaching a poetry unit to my class. They had just finished learning about short stories in the unit before so I thought I would tie my poetry unit into that one by turning a poem/ballad into a short story. Thus, I took the song, Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars and spent an entire weekend turning the lyrics from that song into a short story and when I finished, I sat back and looked at the short story I produced.

Now, I'm a fairly concise writer. But I looked at the short story I generated from the song lyrics and thought to myself, "It is amazing that the lyrics to Your Ex-Lover Is Dead can encapsulate, in 3 short verses something that took me 3 pages to write out in short-story format." And then it hit me...

This is why poetry is so important to writing good prose. To quote Coleridge, poetry is "the best words in their best order". I realized this when I was writing my own poetry - in order to produce GOOD poetry, you have to work to ensure that every word is perfect and that the order in which they come is perfect as well. It forces you to come up with the best possible combination of the best possible words. And of course, this is a skill that is essential to writing truly excellent prose. In a sense, you have to put yourself in the same mindset of writing poetry in order to write great prose - something that is easy to neglect because there appears to be less pressure to ensure that every word is perfect in prose.

Prose lets you get away with some things that you wouldn't be able to get away with when you write poetry. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But put it this way. When I write prose, sometimes I write about the environment and the atmosphere of whatever setting about which I am writing. I take the time convey to the reader what my characters are feeling and I explain the circumstances that have led up to the event in question before the "action" starts happening. And because I'm writing prose, I have every right to do this. But poetry - poetry is the ability to write in such a way that all the things I mentioned above are implicit and indicated in the way the "action" unfolds. In order to do that, your words and how they appear have to be perfect and nuanced.

This, I believe, is why writing good poetry is essential to writing great prose. See, you never stop learning as a writer.

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