I’m Not a Poet & I Know It

The oddest thing happened this week. I was reading an essay on flash fiction in Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction when I was hit with the sudden urge to write a poem about the smell of creosote. I resisted the urge at first–the time was getting on to midnight–but I quickly gave in to it and roughed out a few stanzas. Over the next several nights, I fiddled with it, coming to a version I was satisfied with last night.

I am a fiction-writer. I understand the anatomy and physiology of fiction: the bones of structure, the musculature of scenes, the connective tissue of leitmotif, the beating heart of character.

I am not a poet. The anatomy and physiology of poetry are pretty much the four humors of medieval physic to me. Meter and rhyme, stanza and line break must all be kept in balance somehow for the poem to be thriving and robust, but it is definitely a hit-or-miss affair. Is the poem choleric? Put some leeches on it. Jaundiced with yellow bile? Maybe an emetic will effect a cure, but take care not to kill the poor creature.

So what keeps sending me back to poetry when narrative fiction is my natural means of expression? I’ve known for some time that I will turn to poetry to write about my family; however, that’s not a sufficient explanation because much of my fiction has family relationships as its starting point.

It wasn’t until I read the opening of Sherrie Flick’s “Flash in a Pan: Writing Outside of Time’s Boundaries” that the reason I am sometimes driven to poetry became clear. Fiction is tied to time, time and causality; poetry doesn’t need to be. Poetry can be pure emotion–which brings me to T.S Eliot’s “objective correletive”:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked (Eliot).

Now that is the smell of creosote!


Work Cited

Eliot, Thomas Sterns. Hamlet and His Problems to The Sacred Weed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921. Accessed April 16, 2017. http://ww.bartleby.com/200/sw9.html.

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