Why you should take a poetry class

The last time I blogged, I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo. Then I had a birthday. Then I dropped off the face of the planet. SURPRISE.

I’m done with my second to last semester of college, and I now have some free time which is really, really bizarre. It only took 3.5 months of having every minute of my day scheduled to forget what it’s like to… not… have every minute of my day scheduled. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I sit down to write and I’m like, “Well, why do I need to do this NOW? I could write later. I don’t have anything going on. I’m clear. I’m Scotch. Tape.”

So because of that, I haven’t actually touched Cure Me since December 1st.

But because of NaNo, my first draft of Cure Me is more than half-finished. My wordcount is 57,374 words (I wrote 30,000 of those words during NaNo). I’m hoping to wrap it up at 90K. I am writing this novel faster than I have ever written a novel before.

My first “real” (what does “real” even mean) novel was called Chosen, and I will never show it to anyone ever because it was terrible, but I wrote over the course of my freshman and sophomore years in high school. My second novel, called Esmeralda—which I will also never show to anyone, probably—I wrote on and off over the course of my sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school, due to my being a bum and stopping several times. By the time I worked up the courage to start another novel, I was in my second year of college. Privateer took a year and a half, and then I started Cure Me approximately eight months after I finished Privateer.

That was five months ago. And now I’m getting close to the end of Cure Me. What is even happening. I don’t know.

I DON'T KNOW

On top of that, I’ve had projects to complete other than Cure Me. I accidentally started writing three short stories in the middle of Cure Me, and I’m only actually finished with one of them. This is why I almost never start things that I’m not 99% sure I can complete… because then they hang over my head and make me want to go all She-Hulk on my laptop.

But writing these short stories has been really good for me. I used to write shorts all the time in high school. They were my way of expressing myself quietly, without having to talk to anybody about what I was feeling. When I got to college, I stopped doing that as much, and I kind of forgot how.

It’s taken me three years to remember. And relearn. And learn what I never knew before.

I’ve already talked about taking a poetry class this past semester, and how I was terrified to death of it. I’ve written poetry before, but never in a classroom setting. I don’t consider myself to be a poet. As for other people’s poetry, I always used to nod politely and say nice things about poems, but I don’t know that I truly appreciated poetry as a form of storytelling before I took this poetry class.

I got to know the girls in my class through their writing, their raw, unfiltered confessions of who they are and the things they love most and the things they are most ashamed of and proud of in their lives. And even though I was sort of forced to open up to them in return (that’s the thing about assignments—they’re not optional), I don’t regret a minute of it. Even if I did it grudgingly at first. Even if I had no idea what I was doing most of the time.

Poetry is the most boiled down, concise form of expression you can create—it takes precision and care that I hadn’t realized to be important in the process of crafting a poem. It’s helped me learn about good storytelling, in that every word should earn its place, be THE word for THAT moment. It should be the one the story deserves AND the one it needs. Much like Batman. If Christopher Nolan weren’t such a freakin’ heartbreaker.

raahhhh batman

This idea is applicable to both novel revision and short story-writing. With short stories, you only get a few, choice words to say exactly what you mean, just like in poetry. You don’t have a lot of time to set the scene, so you’d better do it just right. Short stories came more naturally to me when I was in high school, I think, because I didn’t have as many words crowding my head. I wasn’t writing “seriously.” I was writing to get it out of my system, and that was great for my younger self. That was perfect for a budding writer.

But now it’s more complicated, because words have become my life, all the time.

Characters, story ideas, dialogue, description, metaphors, symbols—they all swirl around in my head 24/7. I think I’ve always been more or less like this, but the difference is that now I’ve become far more aware of it. I truly believe that literature classes in college have changed me as a reader, and therefore also changed me as a writer (since you can’t be one without the other). Now I notice when I hear a phrase or read a paragraph that makes my heart beat faster, and I realize that it’s because it’s triggered a flood of story in my being. Now when I read, I not only lose myself in the story, but I also subconsciously take notes on how to make my own work better.

And I think my poetry class only amplified all of those tendencies.

*This is just my personal experience, and I acknowledge that part of maturing as a writer has been simply growing older. I am absolutely not saying that you can’t be a “good” writer if you haven’t had a formal education. I’d be just plain stupid to make that claim. I think if you’re a writer, words will always come to you. And more importantly, words will stay with you. 

Poetry class made me crazy. But it also stretched me in ways I’d never even thought about before. It made me exercise writing muscles I rarely used. And now I understand the reason why my university requires both fiction writing and poetry writing courses if you’re a Creative Writing major; it’s like taking theatre improv/acting classes as a businessperson or an animator. The skills you develop in another field of study can actually end up helping you grow in your chosen field.

It’s magic, guys, MAGIC.

Anyway, short stories. Working on them is both a really nice break from thinking in novel-length prose, and it’s also great to just be able to write as the stories come to me. See what NaNo did to me? NOW I’M CRAZY *AND* DISORGANIZED.

–Samantha Chaffin

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3 thoughts on “Why you should take a poetry class

  1. clclewis801 says:

    Ah, I feel sort of the same. I had an English class freshman year of college and the teacher read us poetry. Before that I had a tutor who was into poetry, and before that I wrote poetry and short stories online and for friends to *vent*/express myself.
    I also understand what you said about non-English majors growing as writers…sometimes I feel a bit odd not going to school for creative writing or English but pursuing it just as seriously, but aside from my career.
    🙂 Right now I’m trying to get a short story out of my head…so this post was the perfect read for today. I hope you complete what you started and don’t be afraid to stop if needed. This post by Sarah Dessen really encouraged me, http://sarahdessen.com/3942/blog/abandoning-and-listening/ simply because I can relate to writing something that just isn’t working. Have a great day!

    ~Bri

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