How Poetry Has Shaped My Writing

Jenny Xie’s Eye Level, a collection I read for my poetry class

After taking a lot of research and critical writing-based classes, I wanted to try doing something more relaxing and creative this semester. Since I wrote poetry in high school but never had the opportunity to take a formal poetry class, I decided to apply for CWR 202: Creative Writing – Poetry. However, unlike critical essays or research papers, poetry (and art in general) can deal with highly personal topics, and thus the thought of sharing my poems and having them openly critiqued by others felt quite nerve-wracking. However, I’ve been really enjoying this opportunity to reenter that creative space and have realized how relevant poetry can be to other genres of writing: 

For one, poetry has helped me practice discipline in my writing. While poetry classes (as well as most CWR classes) are PDFO, they do require a substantial amount of time and effort. Moreover, since poetry is less formulaic than other types of writing, you can’t necessarily whip up a poem minutes before class. More often than not, the lack of rules was more stress-inducing than liberating; at times I was at a complete loss at what to write about and how to write about it. In the beginning, I thought I was simply uninspired—I would wait for an idea to pop into my head, and I expected I would easily write an organic, unforced poem. However, I realized quickly that writing poetry is rarely effortless, and that waiting for inspiration is typically an excuse for procrastination. While creative inspiration is undeniably important, I’ve learned that a “good” poem is usually the product of sufficient time to brainstorm, experiment, draft, and edit. 

I’ve also learned to pay more attention to language. I was surprised to find how much I learned about my writing in general through poetry, especially considering how poetry can appear so abstract and different from other genres of writing. In receiving critiques and rereading my own poetry, I realized how I tend to flood my poems with modifiers and unnecessary “fluff.” It led me to rethink my writing habits, specifically my wordiness, in my academic writing as well, where I often clutter my papers with redundant transitions and phrases. Given its characteristic brevity, poetry has taught me to focus more on conserving words and space, and how to convey powerful images and emotions with few words. 

Writing poetry regularly gave me a chance to de-stress and reflect. While stress-inducing at times, writing a poem every week became an introspective process, where I had the opportunity to dwell on my past experiences, memories, and emotions and repackage them into a less raw, more loose and unstructured art form. Especially for poems sourced from more personal experiences, writing felt almost therapeutic. The obscurity of poetry and its reliance on individual interpretation were also somewhat reassuring, as it allowed me to produce pieces that felt private but could be understood differently depending on the reader’s own memories and experiences. This also changed my perspective on and helped me overcome my initial fear about having my work critiqued in workshops, as I found that learning about the varying moods and images my writing evoked for different readers was incredibly insightful in becoming a more objective, distant reader of my own work. Furthermore, even for poems that deal with more fun, light-hearted topics, the process itself of producing a creative piece provided a sort of reprieve from the stress and chaos of the semester. 

As such, taking a poetry class this spring has helped me rediscover my enthusiasm for poetry and made me look into taking more in the future. While of course you can explore poetry outside a classroom setting, I’d still definitely recommend taking a poetry class during your time at Princeton. Keep in mind that CWR courses are application-based with the deadline usually several weeks before course enrollment, so make sure to check out the CWR course offerings beforehand if you’re interested!

–Soo Young Yun, Humanities Correspondent

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