From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Poem a Day Keeps the Cliche Away

I don't know about you, but after a while of working on a piece, I start worrying that I'm becoming less and less original, and that I'm reverting to rote phrases and falling back on things I've heard people say before. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but sometimes it can be hard. Sometimes it takes more than prose to get true honesty and true beauty into your language, and that's where poetry comes in.

All good writing is poetic, in my opinion. I've decided to try and get in the habit of reading a bit of poetry every night, just a poem or two, maybe even trying to memorize the really good ones, and my hope is that doing this will get my language of out the rut of cliche, and imbue it with the spark and life that I sort of feel it missing.

Do any of you do this, and has it worked? Any recommendations for me?

The two collections I really like are the Poetry 180 books edited by Billy Collins, and the Good Poems series edited by Garrison Keilor. I know some people don't have the highest opinion of these ones, but I absolutely love them, and think they're easy to get into and fantastic poetry collections to start out with.

And with that, I'll leave you with two of my favorite poems of all time. One older, one newer, and both coincidentally about God. Not particularly trying to be religious with this post, but I LOVE how differently each poet approaches the same topic, and how successful they both are in completely different ways.
Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

God Got a Dog, by Cynthia Rylant

He never meant to.
He liked dogs, He'd
liked them ever since He was a kid,
but He didn't think
He had time for a dog now.
He was always working
and dogs needed so
much attention.
God didn't know if He
could take being needed
by one more thing.
But He saw this dog
out by the tracks
and it was hungry
and cold
and lonely
and God realized
He'd made that dog
somehow He was responsible
though He knew logically
that He had only set the
world on its course.
He couldn't be blamed
for everything
But He saw this dog
and He felt bad
so He took it on home
and named it Ernie
and now God
has somebody
keeping His feet warm at night.


Ah, aren't those so great? (I hope I don't get in trouble for that second one, copyright issues and what-not, but I my intentions towards Ms. Rylant's work are completely honorable, and besides, I couldn't help myself. I think you should all go buy her God Went To Beauty School collection right now). Anyway, are you guys big poetry readers? Do you agree that reading it can be a huge help in our own work?

Sarah Allen


  1. If anything, poetry gets to the point much faster than fiction writers do. My editor said reading and writing poetry can make you write tighter novels/stories.

    You both have a valid point.

  2. I don't read a lot of poetry, but I really really love that second one :)

  3. I find most of the poetry I like on Jonathan Carroll's blog. I have thought of reading a poem daily since I've heard it recommended for improving writing; it's just a matter of finding poems I like each day.

  4. I find most of the poetry I like on Jonathan Carroll's blog. I have thought of reading a poem daily since I've heard it recommended for improving writing; it's just a matter of finding poems I like each day.

  5. Thank you for stopping by my The Homeplace Series blog. I always appreciate comments! ;-)

  6. I don't read as much poetry as I should. I always love it when I do. Songs are also great sources of stories being told quickly in a unique way.

  7. I totally agree with you, Sarah. I think studying and emulating poetry can really improve other writing. With poetry, you're trying to express an image/emotion/event in a very brief yet fresh/interesting way. I really believe emulating poets would improve all of our writing.


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