Poetry, like art, is difficult to define. My definition of poetry is to call it an indirect telling of an idea through imagery and emotions rather than direct and simple communication. A poetic device could be rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, simile, or a vast other number of things. But for this week, let’s just focus on those last two, and how to use them effectively outside of poetry and put them in prose.
Let’s take poor Claire out of that dark alleyway and put her some place more pleasant.
"Claire entered the open air cafe. The scent of oven baked strudel and imported Dusseldorf flour wrapped around her like a blanket in the mid morning air. She plopped herself down at the only available table.
To her right, a young couple held hands. The man brushed his thumbs back and forth across the woman’s pale skin while he stared into her caramel eyes. Beside them, two children giggled as their father told stories and made faces. To her left, a young woman cradled her swollen belly in her arms as she sat. A man rested his hand on her belly and smiled at her.
Claire twirled her finger through her Washington Apple red hair as she looked at her table. Three empty chairs stared back at her."
Let’s start with the poetic devices I used. Air isn’t a blanket, but with this simile, I’m telling you that Claire feels comfortable and safe here. I have no idea if they make flour in Dusseldorf, but it puts in the reader’s mind some far away place. Of course, I might use a different place if I was selling this article to a German based publication. Right after, I use the carefree verb “plop” to let you know her mood is a pleasant one. The next paragraph is all about pleasant things without any tension or intrigue. This is where I can start to lose readers if I don't start making things interesting. Most people can only take so much warmth and fuzziness before they get bored. The hook I use is to throw in some contrast to this happy image.
I compare her hair to Washington Apples in the next paragraph. What exact shade of red is a Washington Apple? I don’t know. It’s not important. I used it because it does a couple things for me. One, apples are pleasant and gives us a good feeling about Claire. And two, it contrasts the name of a German city with an American symbol. What I’m saying here is that Claire is an American in a foreign environment. She might be in a foreign country or just down the block from her apartment. So far, it doesn’t matter. It’s the contrast that she doesn’t quite fit in. And although she’s content with that at first, her mood starts to change.
If I’ve done my job as a writer, this will really hit home when I mentioned the chairs are empty. Chairs can’t stare at anything. This is a sort of metaphor in that I’m personifying the chairs at the same time calling them empty and devoid of life or companionship. The table was available, so we already knew the chairs would be empty, but the fact that I said so, should let the reader know how alone Claire suddenly feels despite being around so many happy people. I chose to describe the other people as in various cycles of romantic life: a couple in love, a pregnant woman excited about her future, and a father with his children. Claire is feeling left out.
I could have easily just said Claire went to a cafe, saw other people in love, and felt lonely. But this really short opening scene has a lot more impact because of the imagery. The two poetic devices I used also packed a lot of meaning into very few words--and right where I needed them.
Now, none of this matters if you, as a fellow writer, don’t know what you want to write about. Next week, I’ll go over why writer’s block is something no writer should ever have to suffer with and how to get writing immediately without stopping.