The Act of Creation: Poetry v Prose

Megan and I have blogged recently (me less articulately than her) about the nature of creation in various different milieus.  I was taken today by Charles Baxter’s tongue-in-cheek description of the difference between poets and prose writers, in terms of poetry involving more flashes of insight and prose requiring more perspiration.  Some of my favorite comments are his suggestion that:  “Fiction writers get resentful, watching poets call it quits at 9.30am.” (Burning Down the House, 2 ed, 2008, p 109)

and more particularly this description of prose and poetry writers at parties…

“Fiction writers cluster in the unlit corners of the room, silently observing everybody, including the poets, who are usually having a fine time in the center spotlight, making a spectacle of themselves as they eat the popcorn and drink the beer and gossip about other poets.  Usually it’s the poets who leave the mess just as it was, the empty bottles and the stains on the carpet and the scrawled phrases they have written down on the backs of pizza delivery boxes – phrases to be used for future poems, no doubt, and it’s the prose writers who in the morning usually have to clean all of this up.  Poets think that a household mess is picturesque – for them it’s the contemporary equivalent of a field of daffodils.  The poets start the party and dance the longest, but they don’t know how to plug in the audio system, and they have to wait for the prose writers to show them where the on/off switch is.  In general, poets do not know where the on/off switch is, anywhere in life.  They are usually off unless they are forcibly turned on, and they stay on until they are taken to the emergency room, where they are medicated and turned off again.” (p 108)

Apologies to any poets or aspiring poets out there.  But the passage does remind me of the ‘flash of inspiration’ explanation of creativity – as applied here to poets – with a more ‘sweat of the brow’ rationale for the creativity of fiction writers.  I wonder what Baxter would say about copyrighting computer software?

One thought on “The Act of Creation: Poetry v Prose

  1. I wonder what the memoir writers are doing? Perhaps cornering people, sloshing their drink around in large gestures, telling them stories they’ve already told a hundred times, stories that begin, “Now, I’ll tell you another thing…” “And did I ever tell you about the time…” (not caring if there ever was an ever)

    And the stream of consciousness writers? Maybe pacing back and forth in indiscernible patterns across the room, muttering to themselves, “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow…”

    So far it sounds like quite a party!

Comments are closed.