Have you ever been to a poetry reading? That's probably a stupid question. Of course you've been to a poetry reading.
Several years ago I heard one of my poet friends read for the first time. We were sitting in a small auditorium, the poets seated in the front row, taking the podium one by one and sharing their work. Much of it was good...you know, interesting stuff being written by undergraduate poets-to-be. I assumed they were breaking out their best work since this was a judged event, though what for has long escaped my memory.
When G stood up and walked to the podium, I held my breath. G is a quiet woman with a magnetizing presence, and I hoped she was going to be good, but the truth is, I had no idea. I'd not seen her work, or heard her read until this moment.
G gathered her papers without looking up at the audience, and then she began to speak. Her voice, husky and honey-warm, began to weave invisible wires over our heads, and we were pulled taut by them, electrified by them. The actual meaning of the words traveling just behind - barbed tendrils carried on these waves of honey. A mind-bending combination, like having your hair stroked by one hand, and being gutted with the other.
Such is the power of cadence and rhythm in writing (amplified in this case, by delivery). The possibilities to play with the rhythm of words are endless, and when used skillfully, renders the reader helpless, stripped of the capacity for direct cognition. Here is where the reader begins to trust you. Here is where the relationship between writer and reader is forged, because it is here that the reader can enter that alternate space that good writing creates that is neither here in the present moment, or back there where the words were written. It is wholly new.
To dance with words, to create this rhythm, is about intentionally choosing the words to create evocative patterns. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "Prose equals words in their best order. Poetry equals the best words in the best order." The restriction of writing in 100 words, I think, requires some of both.
Take last week's piece by David Blackstone (David's Writing Blog):
They stood at the very edge of the aerie — Perry and Jorge a few steps back, Hraff with claws dug into the lip — their eyes turned upward, outward; the sky was a roiling cloud of Fri.
"How many are here?"
Hraff rumbled, "All clans. Most from each clan. Some stay behind."
Like Hraff, apparently. "Why?"
"Find mates. Socialize, play games. Negotiate."
"Dolphins do the same thing," Jorge said.
"Dolphins?" Hraff asked.
Hraff leaned as far out as he could, perfectly balanced between rock and sky. "Are they beautiful?"
Remembering another world, a smile grew across Perry's face. "Absolutely."
Though this is sci-fi, a genre one might think is far from the poetic or the prose, David consistently uses rhythm to create mood, to set up the reader for surprise, or to laugh, or to unleash an internal fist-pump (booyah!), or to trigger a sense of panic, or to simply disrupt the reader's expectation. And that's the point. Whatever the story or the form, think about the rhythm. Read it out loud. Have someone else read it out loud, and refine the selection and order of the words until you hear the song of your story.
This week's word, from David's entry last week, is: