My first question on the site was How do I stop using 'the' to start sentences so much? , One of the answers said:

I would suggest reading more English poetry to pick up some techniques.

I commented asking for advice on how to do this but the answer writer never responded so it has earned its own question.

How can I use poetry techniques to improve my prose?


4 Answers 4


What would really help is to write some poetry

What trying to write structured poetry does is force you to put a lot of thought into how you build sentences in order to fit a predetermined rhythm and/or rhyme formula. Quite often, you have to get very creative about how and where you start and end sentences, and everything in between. Doing so is excellent practice for structuring prose.

Take, for instance, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. It's moderately long as far as my attention span goes, but even if you don't read all of it, just try reading a verse or two out loud. Listen to how the lines flow into one another. Listen to how the pattern of stresses make the poem bowl along at pace, then pause and ramble, then bowl along again. Poetry teaches you how to craft a sentence that sings. How to use rhythm and stresses to evoke different sensations in a reader.

This is valuable beyond simply learning novel ways to start a sentence. It teaches you novel ways to write the whole thing.

How to start

Of course, it's tricky to write poetry if you don't really like reading it. It may well be that you don't like poetry full stop, but it might just be that you haven't found a poem you like. I'm relatively picky (some might say uncultured) with the poetry I like, so it takes a while to find things.

Worst case scenario you can treat it as a practice exercise. Here's what I did.

Pick one verse of The Raven (or any poem you like). If The Raven is a bit complex, I also like The Conqueror Worm (the second-from last verse is especially good). Read it and work out the pattern of syllables to each line. Then work out the pattern of rhymes if it has one. Then work out the pattern of stresses.

Next is the tricky part. Rewrite that verse on a topic of your choosing. Force your sentences to fit the structure of the poem. Formulate and re-formulate until you have a verse that flows as well as the original, just using different words.

It's a bit of a trial by fire, but at the end of it I had real appreciation for good poets, and a bit more experience at novel sentence structures.

Do it enough times, and it starts to become second nature :)

tl;dr You will probably gain more from trying to write poetry than just reading it, and can treat rewriting an existing poem as a practice exercise for writing prose.

  • 1
    Wow thankyou for an amazing answer. Super useful structure advice on how to actually learn and apply these techniques. I should have asked this ages ago if this is the quality of answer I would get.
    – linksassin
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 11:09
  • @linksassin Haha no worries ;) glad you found it useful Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 11:38

I noticed you said in the comment to that answer that you are not a fan of poetry. Perhaps the main characteristic of poetry that you might employ is brevity. My favourite definition of poetry is concentrated prose.

In verse, each word and its placement is important and most carefully chosen.

What I would suggest is read books that are written beautifully, have profound thoughts and see how they did it. My favourite novels wax poetic on occasion and those tend to be the passages that I savour. Victor Hugo writing about Paris, coloured by a deep love for that city and a nostalgia, is sheer brilliance.

One aspect of poetry that you could incorporate in prose is treating words like music, choosing them for sound, beauty and meaning. Poetry is meant to be read aloud. If your prose sounds good to your ear, it probably flows well.

  • 1
    Thankyou for this. I struggle with pure poetry either because it doesn't seem to make sense or takes too long to get to the point. I'd never heard of "condensed prose" as a poetic form. Happy to keep reading poetic descriptive passages though. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is my favourite book due to the way it describes scenes as if they were a song.
    – linksassin
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 2:04

Poetry is the muck. The application of unfettered depiction that flows and dives

And sneaks back up on you, with no concern for the rules and boundaries of facile form.

You can read it aloud

Let it slouch from your throat, and hear the difference.

Know it like sun knows the horizon at-red rimmed dusk, dipping and intimate. It is not the structured art.

To know poetry is to practice another incarnation, forgetting the rules, and letting your world come, and come, and roll and when you feel your training and education (domestication) bridle, don't


Keep going.

That's the difference. Cull yourself of others. Scrape off the ghosts of expectation like dead scales. Write it true and read it aloud, and listen to the melody.

Subtle. Gradually rising. Falling. Rising again into the wave which is power. The form imparts emotion, so break your form.

Scare your reader in quiet ways. And they will understand your mastery.


This answer is written more as a conceptual starting point to aid self study, and hopefully help a reader find additional details far beyond the scope of a small web post:

Writing, whether prose or poetry, is done with tools. You assemble thoughts and emotions into collections structured by grammar, but while working on general prose you have a massive workshop full of all kinds of random tools.

If you just walk in and start working, then it is easy to fall into a trap of just using a handful of those tools, and only using them in their most basic and straightforward fashion.

Poetry on the other hand is a small tool box of only a handful of tools at a time. You're forced to examine the usage of a specific concept, explore it, and depending on the poetry in question you are possibly even seeing specific tools in a focused light for the first time. Given fewer options you force yourself to be more creative.

Learning new tools in turn offers you more methods to explore and work with. You Can learn all of these tools through the lens of just prose itself, but poetry can help strip away more distractions and make it easier to focus.

As an example start breaking down the line. "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" And pick out elements used like meter, repetition, exaggeration, etc.

Compare that to a line like "Someone give me a damned horse!" And consider the difference in impact.

Not every line needs to be flowery Shakespearean poetry, but knowing and understanding the elements that goes into it gives you greater flexibility in writing. Educate yourself on the tools, and you have choices as to what tools to use. If you ignore the tools, then you limit your options you can actively choose from.

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