A few days ago was World Poetry Day, and I wrote some thoughts about it.
If I'm a poet, I'm what they'd call an "outsider artist." Unfamiliar with canon, ignorant of technique, uneducated and unsocialized in the world of verse. But apparently I've been writing poems for years, thinking they were just really short stories. Readers have pointed this out to me many times but I brushed it off. I've always liked writing in a style that you could call poetic (The Seattle Times did!) but I always thought of myself as a story guy. Even the songs I wrote usually had clear narratives.
As an awkward, alienated 20-something, I wrote to connect and communicate. I wanted to be seen and understood by the world, so my writing had to be clear and...well, obvious. I resisted abstraction. Editors warned me to avoid prose that was "writerly" or God forbid, "purple" and I tried to obey.
Occasionally I would slip. In moments of intense feeling, I would hammer out little vignettes that lacked much plot but evoked much mood, that hinted at stories without telling them, letting the language itself plant emotions in the reader's mind without a lot of narrative context.
Being ignorant of and frightened by the rarefied realm of Poetry, I called these things short stories. Some of them I dumped online. Others I tried to publish as a collection. Publishers said they were unstructured, ambiguous, lacking satisfying conclusions. Like poetry.
So I locked away that delicate impulse and plunged back into hard narrative for three more books to finish the Warm Bodies series. I had to follow the relatively grounded style I'd established in the first book, but I found myself pulling hard against those chains. I found an escape from R's limiting first person POV and flew off with a cosmic omniscient narrator that was free to get poetic. I kept it in check because this was still a grounded, realistic story (yes, fight me) but I started to recognize and embrace the power of abstraction.
I started reading some poetry, relying on trusted friends to guide me around the mountains of bullshit that have accumulated over the centuries. Some I found impenetrable, so fully abstracted it only registered as white noise. Some I found so inward-aimed that I felt ignored by the writer, uninvited and unwelcome in their private conversation. But some struck a balance between holding close and reaching out. Some pulled me into a churning storm of feelings and images and crackling linguistic lightning—all without the support of a plot.
I became aware of a hidden dimension to language, how well chosen words can evoke the sense of a story that isn't actually there, like an optical illusion, a phantom narrative that you can only see when you let your eyes blur a little.
There are optical illusions that let you see new primary colors and perceive impossible shapes. Poetry can do the same with language. It can bypass your rational brain and inject stories directly into your subconscious—stories that can't be told through narrative, because they're too subtle, too fragile, too pan-dimensionally strange to be held in the grubby ham fist of the rational mind.
So anyway, I'm like, writing poetry now. I’m weaving it into my photography and putting it on Instagram Follow me there if you’d like to check out this new branch of my writing. Thanks!