Because I write both, I get asked a lot about the relationship between poetry and prose. How can you write both? Do you write them using the same methods? Does reading or writing one help me learn about the other?
And basically, the answer to that last one is…
Whether I’m working on a poetry project or a fiction piece – reading carefully selected poetry throughout the drafting and editing process encouraged me to experiment with how I use words, rhythm, and syntax. Poetry is – by its very nature – original. It invites us to see everyday things in new ways using evocative imagery and phrases that dance on the tongue. And why shouldn’t fiction do this too?
I thought I’d share several of my current poetry inspirations, some new and old. I hope it encourages you to try reading something new!
Weeds and Wildflowers
Poems by Alice Oswald, Etchings by Jessica Greenman
I come back to this collection time and time again. It must be my favourite collection EVER (though the title of favourite poem still goes to Poe’s ‘The Raven’).
Oswald brings flowers to life by anthropomorphising them. Lily of the Valley becomes a women determined to never leave her valley, while Interrupted Brome becomes a street sweeper, inexplicably stiffening and suffering with shock. The language used is neat and clean, no waste at all. She uses the simplest words to convey whole worlds of emotional gravitas. I could harp on about Weeds and Wildflowers for days, but I won’t. Again.
Poems by Teika Marija Smits
Indigo Dreams publish some of the best contemporary poets around – I seem to have collected many of their collections over the years!
A current favourite is Russian Doll. A collection exploring metamorphosis from girl to mother, the poems delve into friendship, sorrow, self-consciousness, family, and life. We meet a host of true-to-life characters, like Smits’ attention magnet mother in ‘Shades of Red’, and Paul Pateman, the childhood friend offering a shoulder to cry on in ‘Ten Ton’.
It’s a real coming-of-age collection, all written in Smits’ accessible, story-like style. These poems feel like secrets, whispered to you over a cup of tea in a friend’s sunlit kitchen.
Harald in Byzantium
Poems by Kevin Crosley-Holland
Illustrations by Chris Riddell
I’m on such a history binge at the moment. If I get a spare moment to have a cup of tea in peace, I’m watching a mini history documentary on YouTube, or slipping down the Wikipedia spiral – following link to link to link.
The Viking Harald Hardrada was the greatest warrior of his age, until he was killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. These poems follow Harald during his early years serving in the Varangian Guard in Byzantium, as he explores the land, the law, and his lusts.
This new collection came to me recently and I’ve been hugely enjoying how Crossley-Holland fits so much character and historical imagery into such small and neat poems. The illustrations are absolutely stunning alongside, somehow adding both mystery and clarity to the true themes within each poem. I don’t know why there aren’t more illustrated collections – and indeed novels – out there. Hopefully this is something I’ll one day rectify… 😉
The First Free Women – Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns
Collected by Matty Weingast
This is a niche choice, but again it’s one that I pick up time and time again. Composed around the Buddha’s lifetime, here you’ll find poems of princesses and courtesans, tired wives of arranged marriages, and women desperately in love. Some are born into wealth, and others with nothing at all in their pockets.
Even though these poems are thousands of years old, the stories within these pages are utterly relatable. Some detail a woman’s search for enlightenment, and some are surprising irreverent. I’ve included one of these here.
Abaya's Mother I once spent a week in bed with a bad fever. My little body stank from head to foot. Of course I never noticed the smell until after my fever had broken. Not that this little story necessarily had anything to do with you.
This poem is follows by one by Abaya herself, who explores the tangled relationship between our mind and body. The collection covers such a wide scope of characters and behaviours. It’s like being part of an ancient community, and seeing yourself in every you meet. Incredible stuff.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
I still have my copy of this from when I studied it for my A-Levels, which was almost 18 years ago.
Many of the poems in this famous collection have become legendary. ‘From Little Girl Lost’ to ‘The Tyger’ we travel first through an almost fairytale land of rural beauty and peace, through to the mirror versions of the poems, post-Industry. It’s so clever. Only when read together can you see both sides of the coin. If you’re lucky enough the own a copy with Blake’s colourful etched plates, then you can experience the poems the way we’re meant to – as an artform. So inspiring.
Most readers don’t necessarily choose to read poetry. It can seem inaccessible, confusing, or even unrelatable – if you pick up the wrong sort of collection for you. It’s such a rich and lyrical world to explore. I hope you decide to give one of the above a try!
(Or failing that – try one of my poetry books! They’re good – I promise!)
2 Comments Add yours
Many thanks for your lovely review. It’s made me ever so happy! And as someone who writes poetry and prose I’m always keen to hear from others who do so as well. I think it’s fascinating how the two kinds of writing can inform and inspire each other. And yes to books of poetry (or prose) with illustrations – I’m certainly a fan!
Yey! I hope to see a lot more illustrations in various types of books really. Because why the hell not?!