Skip to content

Guest Post: Improve Your Prose With Poetry by Alexis Bonari

Many thanks to guest poster Alexis Bonari who reminds us – scriptwriters and novelists alike – that looking to *other* mediums can help us improve our writing, in this case: poetry. Love the notion of what a horse might think about… Enjoy!
If you’re looking to sharpen your vocabulary or shave off a few thousand words from your manuscript, try picking up a book of poetry. Many prose writers and novelists are taught to generally keep their noses in their genres; little mention is given to poetry if for no reason than the obvious disparity in length between a poem and a novel (perhaps with the exception of this bestseller). Still, poetry has the following to offer all writers:


so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


A wheelbarrow, however ordinary and mundane at first glance, exemplifies the Imagist philosophy of “no ideas but in things.” Without a wheelbarrow, everything a pair of hands cannot lift does not make it from one end of the barn to the other, past the farm, to the market, or across the globe. A wheelbarrow makes the simple monolithic, and yet needs only 16 words and understatement to convey. Rather than saying “everything” as implied, however, William Carlos Williams opts so say, “so much” depends upon this wheelbarrow.


In Incantation, Elinor Wyle begins every new stanza with mention of a white object: “A white well / … / A white rose / … / A flung white glove.”

Finding a place within a novel for repeating structures can be tricky, and we risk cheapening the writing or becoming long-winded. When well-executed, however, parallelism lends prose a momentary and therefore precious melody.


Referring to Robert Frost’s dismal poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: the poet says of his little horse “[he] must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near/ … / He gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake.”

Frost takes for granted what most people would not—that a horse has reasoning and cognitive capabilities beyond, “Dude, where’s my hay?”

Rather than simply describing the scene of a murder, consider having the reader see it through the eyes of a stray cat, or describing a train as eating up the landscape a la Emily Dickinson.


Few but the most nostalgic of writers and readers have the patience for reading Chaucer or Milton cover to cover anymore. This is a literary age when every word counts—or should. What better way to resentfully shave a few thousand words off your manuscript (at the behest of your devil-incarnate publisher) than by reading a few haiku? By definition, haiku, tanka, and other forms of Japanese poetry have limitations on syllables. That means every word must count. Renowned Matsuo Basho wrote in 1667:

Plum blossoms at their best—if only the wind blew empty-handed!

An entire scene and range of emotions—wistfulness, sadness, regret, joy—are expressed in 11 words.

Then again, there’s this one by Masaoka Shiki:

A stray cat

shits in my

winter garden

What else needs to be said?

BIO: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching civil engineering scholarships as well as Coke scholarship for all those thirsty students. Whenever she gets some free time, she enjoys doing yoga, cooking for fun, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *