Thursday, November 04, 2010

To write stories, read poetry

If you aspire to be a good writer and a story teller, where do you get your ideas from? To begin with, says Ray Bradbury, you could read poetry every day of your life.

Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanse paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short story teachers recommend them for browsing.

My story, “The Shoreline at Sunset” is a direct result of reading Robert Hillyer’s lovely poem about finding a mermaid near Plymouth Rock. My story, “There will come Soft rains” is based on the poem of that title by Sarah Teasdale and the body of the story encompasses the theme of her poem. From Byron’s, “ And the Moon Be Still as Bright” came a chapter for my novel. “The Martian Chronicle’ which speaks for a dead race of Martians who will no longer prowl empty seas late at night. In these cases and dozens of others, I have had a metaphor jump at me, give me a spin and run me off to do a story.

What poetry? Any poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms. Don’t force yourself too hard. Take it easy. Over the years you may catch up to, move even with, and pass T.S.Eliot on your way to other pastures. You say you don’t understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him as you can read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over an endless green meadow on a windy day.

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