In the earlier days of this site, I used to host a fast fiction exhibition. Every week I would post a prompt and people could write a very short story in response to the prompt. It was a lot of fun. A story told in 100 or 200 words starts to read a lot like poetry. All of the excess thoughts have been eliminated. There is no room for wasted words when the count is so tight. To me, that is one of the advantages of good poetry over prose. Every word matters.
A poem doesn’t have to tell a story. The pantoums that Jenn just wrote about, for example, don’t feel like a story. The use of repetition makes them feel more like a thought that simply won’t go out of your head. There are also nonsense poems, chants, list poems, imagist poems and a variety of other forms and approaches that are not about the story. Even the prose poem, which takes on the look of a story with its use of paragraphs and other prose structures, generally reflects thoughts more than story.
If you choose to tell a story with your poetry, you will find yourself looking at a narrative that winds through your poem. Events happen in succession. There are some poems in which a line or a stanza can easily be moved because the poem doesn’t progress along the lines of a plot. If the poem tells a story, however, there is generally a flow between lines and paragraphs that only makes sense in order.
People are comfortable telling stories. They do it naturally. Poets write about moments from their lives. Poets make up stories that are realistic or fanciful. They do all the things that prose writers do. They just do it in a different way.
Today’s Poetry Prompt
Write a poem that tells a story. For an added challenge, use a word count. Write four stanzas, each with 30 words.