Is poetry useful in writing?

Weekender
LITERATURE

By THOMAS HUKAHU
DO you like poetry?
As in, do you writing poems and reading poems?
In my past articles I have discussed a few formats of writing that you can utilise to tell your stories, or document information.
I have discussed about the feature article, the script and short story, as well as given you or pointed to examples of each of those.
In my most recent article, I gave you some hints and an example on how you can rewrite a script as a novel, or short story.
In this week’s article I want to discuss poetry.
To do so, let us first review how different prose is to poetry, something that English students in high school are also reminded of from time to time.

In short, poetry has to do with writing using poems, or similar pieces.
All the other writing forms, including novels, feature articles and short stories, are prose.
The site http://www.grammar.yourdictionary.com states that prose is everyday writing and covers the different types of writing that you read daily, from blogs to newspaper articles and novels.
On the other hand, poetry adds artistic style to writing. Instead of using sentences and paragraphs, poetry uses lines, stanzas, verses, meter, stress, patterns and rhythm.
The site http://www.grammar.yourdictionary.com also gives us some common types of poetry, and they include:

  • Sonnets – lyrical poetry with a 14-line arrangement
  • Haiku – traditional Japanese poetry
  • Acrostic – mixes letters and phrases
  • Free verse – no set meter
  • Epic – from oral traditions
  • Rhymed – creates specific rhyme pattern
  • Descriptive – uses descriptive language to express a message
  • Narrative – tells a story

Chants, songs and PNG poets
I think you do realise that chants and songs are also poetry, if the lines are set and those voicing them are using the same ones each time they perform.
You should realise too that we traditionally have our own form of poetry, particularly in the form of chants, songs and oratories that we have.
There are some well-known PNG poets but many as-yet unknown poets write lines or verses as a way of relaxing.
The prominent PNG poets are English or communication lecturers, and they include Russel Soaba, Dr Steven Winduo and Loujaya Kouza.

My own experience
Personally, I have written a lot of poetry in my 20s, when I first started to work, teaching students in high school.
I did that more out of a personal interest.
In 2000, when I took out a year from work to study for a diploma at the University of Goroka, I contributed some of my poetry and short stories to a weekly paper (which is now defunct).
I used a pseudonym, something that writers often do for personal reasons.
About eight years later, I also started writing a few songs, and I brought over some of the skills in writing poetry over to music.
My type of poetry is of two main types, free verse and rhymed.
It is my view that anyone who is interested in poetry must attempt both types.
Is poetry useful in writing?
There are two questions that people often ask about poetry.
I will answer the first one now and the other will be discussed in the next section below.
Now, to the first important question: Is poetry useful in writing?
The answer is yes.
I have read at least one expert in literature saying that poetry teaches a writer to be disciplined and work hard.
It forces a writer to find the correct words to express to express images in his or her mind, or voice the emotions in the heart.
A student who is writing poetry constantly will be better at describing things or places or feelings because the art of doing so is developed in writing descriptive lines within a limited amount of space.
The descriptive lines will also easily come to such a writer when s/he is working on other writing formats, like working on a novel or short story.
Poetry may not be appealing to most people but a writer who wants to develop his or her writing skills must attempt exercises in writing poetry.
Can poetry earn you money?
This is the other important question that many people ask: Can you make money from writing poetry?
The answer is no.
I got that answer from a writer many years ago.
Poetry cannot support you, as in paying your weekly bills.
Writing books about different local dishes or even a well-received novel may earn you enough to make a difference in your living.
Poetry however does not have that potential.
Even if you get to publish your own poetry book, maybe poetry lovers (and there are not many of such) will buy your book but it will not earn you much.
Try writing a song, or do something else with your skills
If you want to earn some money, you should try using your skills in poetry to write songs and get your songs recorded.
I think you are aware too that songs today can be uploaded online and sold there.
There are sites such as Shopify, iTunes, Google Play or Amazon Music that you can access to sell your songs.
You could also write songs and get popular singers to sing them for their new album.
Many famous musicians in the world do not write their own songs, they sing songs that were written by other musicians who remain unknown.
Last year, as I was passing by the main shopping mall in Adelaide, South Australia, I saw something very different.
Usually, I stand for a minute or two to observe a musician busking, playing the guitar or violin,
However that time and in the middle of the mall, there was a tall, lean man sitting in a small chair facing a small table with a typewriter on it.
There was a notice placed beside his table and it said the man could type a poem for anyone who wanted one.
As I stood from metres away and took a few photos of him, I saw two young women approach him and offer him some money and speaking to him.
Within a minute, he started typing while the two women waited for him.
They had just paid him for writing a poem for them.
It is a unique way, but it reminded me that people with poetry skills can utilise them to make some money, like that man with the typewriter at the mall.

A favourite poem of mine
As with songs, we all have our favourites.
Let me share with you a favourite poem of mine.
It is written by the American Robert Frost and is titled The Road Not Taken.
Here are two verses from that poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same …

What effect did the poem have on you?
Did you notice that the poem has a meter and it rhymes?
I call it a perfect poem.
So, what effect did Frost’s poem have on you?
Did you understand what it meant?
Did you have some sort of reaction?
Your answer to these questions reveal how much you know about poetry and the kind of language it uses, whether it is in English or even using an older form of English.
Often, to better understand poetry we have to read poetry, like other poems or verses written by people who may use a simpler form of English.
Also, some poems may not be understood at the first instance you read it.
You have to revisit it a second or third time to understand it, as you would when reading a novel that has a story that is not so easy to follow.

Poetry in the Bible and hymns
The Bible is also filled with poetry.
Reading Psalms or Proverbs may help you develop your sense of rhythm and use of words.
Actually, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are referred to as the five poetic books of the Bible.
Psalms 1, 23 and 100 are some of the famous chapters that have inspired Christian writers to pen hymns.
Interestingly, some of these hymnists, people who write hymns, just wrote lyrics but set it to well-known music that have set meters.
For example, the hymn All People That On Earth Do Dwell, which was based on Psalms 100, is set to the music called Old Hundredth.
Many other hymns have also been written with the same meter of that popular tune, meaning you can sing many hymns using the same music.
That was how many hymns were written in the past.

Poetry vital for budding writers
As mentioned earlier, if you want to be a better writer, it is good to write some poetry on the side while working on your novel, script or short story.
Here is a suggestion: You can mark out two weeks where you write nothing but poetry, like having a fortnight of poetry.
You might even want to take a weekend off to camp out on an island or mountain top and possibly be inspired to write some good lines of poetry.
You can then later return and continue working on your other writing.
I am sure the time taken to write some verses, free or otherwise, will add some flavour to your other writing projects.
Next article: The start-up programme: Lessons in entrepreneurship

  • Thomas Hukahu is an Australia Awards student in Adelaide.

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