The best poetry writing advice I’ve ever been given came from one of Dorianne Laux’s workshop lectures. As a writer who started out with fiction, and still feels as if fiction writing is her primary writing form, my poems can sometimes become very prosy, or feel too much like a vignette instead of a poem. When Dorianne compared the narrative arch of a story to that of a poem, it all clicked for me.
A story’s narrative arch makes some kind of bell curve, whether it be a perfect upside-down U, or weighted toward one of the ends. A poem’s arch, however, should just keep on climbing. It’s narrative arch is continually rising, because a poem should end at the climax. “Don’t pull the poem to a close,” Dorianne told us, “Don’t wrap things up at the end, and never explain. Instead, leave the reader breathless.” Every image in a poem should up the ante and build on the one before it. The purpose of a poem is not to fit the world into a perfect curve of action, conflict, and conclusion, but to open things up.