Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Little Words - Big Ideas

I remember as a kid buying those tiny sponge animals where three or four would fit in the palm of my hand then I'd put them in a glass of water and watch them grow and grow.  Not to "a magically monstrous size" as the packaging claimed, but certainly into something big enough to fill the cup and be worthy of my dime. 

As someone navigating the minefield of novel writing, I'm forever searching for the literary equivalent to those sponge animals.  Something that starts out small enough for me to get my head around, then big enough after some soaking to convincingly fill a 100k-word cup.  As it so often goes with searches, your quest for answers brings you full circle and the finding happens right where you started.

Which brings me back to poetry.  That's where my passion for writing began, and that's what stirred the deeper creative chords in me last week when I encountered this poem, The Little Details, by Stephen Dunn.  While the entire poem had me on an emotional wire, these words were particularly compelling:
                                                My brother is talking about his ice-maker
                                                because a man can't talk about his lymphoma
                                                and chemo every minute of the day.

I read those twenty-two words and I see a novel.  I see three acts, an inciting incident, conflict, character and change.  I see heroes and turning points, plot twists, despair, redemption, hope.  Poetry captures and condenses the heartbeat of a moment.  It's like storytelling concentrate.  So from now on, when you find yourself in search of something to write about, seek out a warm chair in the sun, crack open a book of poetry, and start adding water, one creative drip at a time.


Jordan Dane said...

Beautiful post, Stephen. I've never thought of the evocative imagery used in good poetry as a source of inspiration, but absolutely. Much like song lyrics can trigger emotion that can compel us to write. Well done.

Sechin Tower said...

What a great metaphor for expanding meanings coming from compact words! Once again, less is more. I bet you're an Emily Dickinson fan?

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Thanks. I wrote this on a plane heading east over darkness somewhere between Detroit and Minneapolis.

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Yes, Emily Dickinson from a long long time ago back when I tapped out my poetry on keys that went click clack ding.

Maureen McQuerry said...

My stories used to begin as poems. Always. It was my way into an idea.Two things poetry taught my about writing:the power of the particular, that sliver of ice, to crack open the universal and how seductive language can be.
Thanks for reminding me.