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Monday, March 23, 2009

In genre-al

I admit it, I wondered whether taking a poetry class would be a good idea. Even though the instructor had a great reputation, I write mostly prose, and the idea of many months devoted to writing something else, and picking up words in another way was...unsettling. Prose is what I’ve studied, and it’s where I feel like I know what I am doing. I plan on spending the rest of my life trying to write better sentences. But to write words but abandon the sentence? That seemed like running with the bulls or wing-walking: I’ve enjoyed other people doing it, but never thought to try it myself.
But the cross-training is proving beneficial. I think about nouns and verbs more, and less about prepositions and adverbs. My ability to use metaphor is stronger, and I have a deeper understanding of words for words sake.
I may not be alone. Crossing genres may be the new black in writing. The prototype from the 20th century is the already dearly missed John Updike. In addition to his novels, his reputation as a short story writer was equally large, and he was known as an insightful critic and also wrote poetry. But cross-genre artists today are more in the vein of Neil Gaiman, (comic book writing, short stories, novels radio plays and screenplays) or like Miranda July (short-story, performance artist, filmmaker).
Writing is writing. We all work in words, so loosen up, read the sections in that literary journal you skipped. And then this week, try to get beyond the boundaries that you have with your writing. Make some comics, write a short film. Don’t get stuck in one genre. Then tell us what you did.


Trish said...

I went to a great panel about this at AWP with Nick Flynn and Honor Moore and Carolyn Forche--who are all poets who have written nonfiction. I think moving from poetry to nonfiction is a logical jump (I'm trying it myself).

Eric H. said...

I absolutely agree that cross-genre writing is beneficial. I write both poetry and screenplays, and have written (or at least attempted) stage plays and short stories in the past, even a political speech or two. Trying out other genres enabled me to bring something different to my poetry, and I think it made me a better writer in general.

The example that I follow is Leonard Cohen, who is famous as a singer-songwriter, but has also written two novels and nine volumes of poetry.

Amber Mosure said...

Prose poetry is an interesting genre. I like the idea of incorporating the two, but at the same time, doesn't all prose have a poetic element to it?

If you read anything by Emerson, Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jack Keroauc--all the literary heavyweights you can see poetry embodied in the text, in almost every sentence. The only difference I find is a longer story line than a traditional poem and more facets in the arena of point-of-view. Usually in a poem you get one point-of-view, in a work of prose multiple. But sometimes you get multiple points of view in a poem and one point of view in a story. The two are interchangeable, mutable, pliable. If you excel at one, there is no reason to limit youself to just one genre, one art form; no reason to constrict and confine yourself to a label of poet or prose writer. Branch out, take risks--it is there you'll definitely find more satisfaction with the craft and learn new things about yourself. Sometimes I find choosing a different mode of expression helps with the dreaded writer's block.

Alisha said...

I decided to write poetry to avoid sentences, narrative, characterization, and all manner of devices I associate with fiction. I'm now at a point where sentence structure, narrative, etc., all the elements I wrote poetry to avoid, are now the weaknesses in my poems. Good writing is good writing, and poetry and fiction, when done well, have more in common than one might initially think.