Taking a look at wordiness in poetry.
The Economy of Words
When writing poetry, especially when writing shorter forms such as Haiku and Small Stones, one must pay close attention to the value of the words they use. Individual words, and even syllables, can mean the difference between a piece that is powerful and moving, and a piece that falls flat upon arrival.
But these rules do not only apply to shorter pieces. In longer, metered pieces, one must use every syllable to fill out the form with purpose, and to provide strength to the work. Fluff and fillers belong in pillows, not in writing.
Even in free verse, the overuse of words, often labeled “Wordiness” by editors, can kill a piece that otherwise could have moved mountains. I know of no novel where a chapter was added describing the way the main character brushes his teeth, just so that a specific word or page count could be achieved. The same goes for poetry.
So how do we know what words to cut, and what words are vital to the meaning of the piece? Well, it is by no means a perfect guide, but here are a few places to cut, and a few places to leave alone.
Remember, every rule can be broken, but you want to be able to explain WHY you are breaking the rule before you do.
If you are breaking the rules for the sake or pleasure of breaking the rules, then you are not writing poetry. You are only placing words.
And yes, there is a major difference!
Words to use –
High quality descriptive adjectives.
What to cut -
Most prepositions (Note that I have said “most”)
Variations of the verb “to be” (Be, is, are, am, it, exct.)
Pronouns not directly tied to your main subject
Most small words (one to three letters) (Note that I have said “most”)
Ambiguity (Sort of, almost, kind of like, LIKE, seemed, exct.)
Repetitive words (Having a word show up more than once or twice)
Keep punctuation to a minimum
What not to cut -
Questions, quotes and direct statements. When dropping a single word would alter the meaning of the passage, or change a quote that can be found through research, you should stay true to the form of the statement.
Words that clarify meaning or place.
Words that, if left out, would lesson or alter the meaning of a piece.
And remember. It is permissible to break a rule, as long as you have a reason to break the rule.
What I am getting at –
Okay, so let us take a look at a piece that seems to break many of the rules of wordiness, and find out why it still succeeds.
They bought her a puppy
when what she needed
was her mum and a ride
across the far side
of the moon.
by Rose Mary Boehm
(Taken from http://ariverofstones.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-small-stone.html)
“They” is a pronoun, but it is also the main subject of the piece. In this case, a pronoun is used to show detachment from the subject, and to create a buffer. We often do this in our day to day life. It’s commonly called gossip.
“She” is also a pronoun, but it maintains the distance the speaker has with the subject.
The number of small words is offset by the reader’s inability to remove any of those words without changing the message of the piece.
“Was” is a form of the verb “to be”, but it gives the passage context. There is a way to get rid of it, but that would also alter the tone in which the piece is set up. (Not to mention it would require tripling the amount of punctuation.)
This piece is set up as a quote, as if it is a sentiment passed between two people, so it is hard to alter without changing the meaning.
One more thing –
On the flip side of the coin, the other major issue with wordiness in poetry comes from the use of large, technical words. If writing for a general audience, it is best to avoid these words as much as possible. It is not as common an issue, but an issue nonetheless.