The Poet and the Memoir

The first time I someone told me that poets write the best prose was when I  approached my creative nonfiction professor in grad school. We were supposed to bring in a sample of our nonfiction for the next class.

“Um, professor,” I said hesitantly, catching him after class. I was really nervous about this class as I hadn’t written anything other than academic papers that went to the right margin of the page. “I don’t have any essays, what should I turn in?”

“You can write something up before next week,” he said. Then, when he saw the panic on my face he gave me a kind grin, the sort that reminds you that professors are writers and people too. “Poets write the best prose, anyway.”

That professor’s faith has stayed with me over time. I took this faith in me as I decided to write a memoir. The topic is not dissimilar to what I wrote in his class years ago. I remember a lot of what he told our class in terms of craft.

Non-poets can’t imagine writing a poem, and so sometimes they invest poets with superpowers we don’t have. They think we have a mainline to the angels singing. Sure, we’re pretty good with a metaphor. We put interesting words in interesting places. We think about sound and can make a line shine.

However many of us plot like morons. I’m trying to get my book into an arc. I’m trying to up the conflict. I’m trying to spell out the tensions. I’m trying to draw the reader in for something other than my deft use of imagery. I’m trying to talk about what I feel (WHY IS THAT NOT OBVIOUS?).

I’ve been reading NaNoReVisMo and it helps. Fiction writers at my grad program (and elsewhere) were encouraged to take a poetry class in order to examine language at a micro level. But maybe poet-turned-memoirists should be forced to take fiction classes so we can plot our way out of a paper bag.

What do you not know that you think you should?


9 responses to “The Poet and the Memoir

  1. I don’t know how to really pour on the words. Most novelists seem to be able to write and overwrite, and give themselves all this lovely raw material to work with. I never have been able to do that.

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