On the advice of writing mentor John Reed (www.writerswelcome.com), the Year of the Dragon is the year I face the dragon and stop being afraid of poetry.

I’ve been putting this off for years because, after a long career as a public school student, “poetry is hard,” “I don’t get it,” and “I don’t want to feel stupid.”

Verse-iphobia, as Reed calls my aversion, affects plenty of writers.

“Verse helped us humans remember when we had no paper,” says Reed. He maintains that poetry and prose cross-pollinate. “We can use poetry’s devices to give shading and depth to prose writing.”

He stresses that being poetic doesn’t mean stringing together necklaces of adjectives but selecting the single right adjective. Poetry trains writers to tight, lean, concise writing. Reed advises writers to “pick the concrete detail every time.”

Mastering poetry’s use of “light” gives prose writers another tool to use to set mood.

A study of poetry can also teach writers how to convey character.

“Poetry tunes the reader into the character’s powers of observation, and what the character observes,” says Reed.

Reed, who by trade writes spy novels (Thirteen Mountain and Kingfisher’s Call), regularly finds poetic devices in his genre. Titles, for example.

“The spy thriller Forests of the Night comes from a poem by William Blake.”

And the “Shakespearean Code”, in which both spy and master have to have the same book to decode the message, is a poetic device.

So, exactly how do I improve my understanding?

“Listen to your pulse,” says Reed.” That ‘blub-dub’ is the measure of an iambic foot. Five feet is a pentameter and, what do you know, you’re reading Shakespeare. Poetry at that point becomes the heart, literally, of language.”

Reed reminds writers that, “You’re an adult so read poetry, even if it’s secretly. Your teacher isn’t going to rap your knuckles. You can take what you like and discard the rest.”

I don’t even have to worry about being teased for reading “bad” poetry, such as the works of Robert Service, which critics considered to be just plain schlock.

After all, as Reed says about good versus weak poetry, “They both move the reader, but good poetry has a universal quality that moves many readers.”

Then there’s the writing. I’ve set myself a task to contribute one of three “found object” poems to a trio written by myself, a poet and a non-fiction author.

In the end “liking and playing with the words is what keeps writers writing,” says Reed. “Poetry and prose share a care and joy of life.”


For Poets Travelling Outside

Evelyn Wau, the Vancouver Public Library Poet Laureate, is offering free 40-minute poetry consultations. Sessions take place on the first Monday of the month over the next three years. Lau will accommodate Yukoners travelling to Vancouver.

The deadline to submit a 200-word paragraph about your goals and why you’d like a consultation, plus a sample of three poems is Monday, February 13.

For information about Evelyn Lau visit www.vancouververse.ca. Find program details at www.vpl.ca.