I’m a prose-writer. I write essays and novels and the occasional short story. I have strong prose muscles, muscles that allow me to think in sentences that are often long and complex, sentences that use repetition and subordination, sentences that mimic the thoughts they express.
I wasn’t always this way; when I was younger and fearless I wrote poetry and plays, taking my skills for granted the same way I flew down double black diamond ski trails with abandon. But as life crowded in – marriage, children, money – I shed activities that took too much time or cost too much and instead engaged in the solitary, narrative sports of sculling, cross country skiing and long walks.
For a long time, this was enough to keep me fit. But recently, I found myself breathless and weaker than I wanted to admit, so I joined a gym and started a program of interval training, core strengthening, and weight lifting. It’s made a huge difference in how I feel and think. One day while I climbed hills on the treadmill, I realized I need to cross train my brain as well. I need to pump poetry.
Cross training with verse will help me improve my performance with prose. Poetry, I realized, will teach me concision the way doing bicep curls creates muscle definition. It will help me write vividly and to the point.
I must be onto something, because I feel as much resistance to this as to joining the gym in the first place; I was sure I would hate it. Resistance, I find, indicates I’m on the right track. So this is my plan: I’ve discovered a poetry textbook from my teaching days. It’s got fifty exercises in it: one a week.
Just exercises. Like sit-ups, leg-lifts, shoulder presses and hammer curls, I’ll lift voice, push metaphor, rotate audience, repeat rhythm, chant rhyme, and practice form. Just like working out at the gym, I might surprise myself and have fun.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com