Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry Prompt Octrober 7: There is Power in Narrative Poetry

One of the claims to fame about myself that I say with about as much humble pride as possible is my two time victory as the Bakersfield Front Porch Story Slam Champion! 

Sometimes I think my wins may not be  fair: I am a writer and an actor - two talents that lead naturally to storytelling, right? I actually think it is being a Mommy and having a Father who liked to tell us stories as children that molded me into a storyteller.

The type of poetry most related to storytelling is the Narrative Poem.

Please don't start sweating as I say that - please!

Telling stories in poetry and prose is as simple as this: give your readers a beginning (the set up - the journalistic five W's - who what when where why) followed by the conflict or the "what happened" followed by the resolution.

At story slams, you get up to the mic with nothing written. No note cards, no sharpie pen letters on the hand - and by using this simple outline formula in my head I have told winning stories. Lots of time the stories other people told were good, but they were too rambly. With only five minutes to tell the story, one needs to be ready at any time for that "one more minute" time to be called and then zoom gently into the conclusion - the end, the solution (or the option to end with a non-solution question.)

Here at OctPoWriMo you might even practice writing a three stanza poem. One stanza for the set up, one stanza for the conflict, and one stanza for the conclusion.

Narrative poems are a part of Western Heritage. Before there was widespread literacy, bards and balladeers would share news via narrative poem. It was as well known to the children of the fourteenth and fifteenth century Europe to know narrative poems as it is for the children of today to know about the latest video game or Disney movie.

By practicing and playing with this form of poetry, you are allowing yourself the honor of stepping into a time honored form of poetry.

If you are wracked for ideas, jot down a summary of your day yesterday focusing on the "what happened" or look back at one of your favorite children's stories and retell it.

One of my favorite Narrative Poems I found was Captivity by modern poet Louise Erdrich writing in the voice of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was taken captive by the Wampanoag in the 17th Century and soon became adopted lovingly into their circle. Louise takes on the voice of Mary, as Narrator, and paints an astonishing picture for us.

As you can see, the options are nearlessly endless.

A couple examples for you to read if you feel called:


Here are some quotes and sentence starters to get the juices flowing:

"Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here."
Sue Monk Kidd

"The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon."
Brandon Sanderson

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."
Joan Didion
Wordprompt: Narrator

Sentence starters:

The story I need to narrate is....
I long to tell the story of.....
The story that urges me to tell it to the world is.....

Finally - Here is a complete explanation from e-how on how to write a narrative poem. I almost don't share it because it may bog you down with all of its... this and that and the other. Please DO NOT read it if you tend to get wrapped up in "doing things right"... or I suppose you could write a narrative poem about the story you tell about being a perfectionist or a "goody-two-shoes."

Most importantly, please have fun with this or if it doesn't feel like you today, feel free to write something completely different. Any poetry at all is such a gift we give to the world!

Writing poetry, any poetry, after all is the most important aspect of this experience.

-- Julie Jordan Scott


  1. I found that looking at the sample poems was more helpful to me than reading the tutorial. I felt that the tutorial was a bit too cut and dry. Of course everyone learns differently, so that doesn't mean it wouldn't be helpful to someone else!

  2. I love that quote by Brandon Sanderson. So many times I sit down to write and my writing helps me reason through my life or helps me identify what I'm feeling.

    1. I am a big fan of Rainer Rilke who writes of loving and living questions. Writing is such a clarifier and inherent in writing is asking, loving, and living the meaning & the questions. So glad you are here, writing poetry with us, Elise!

  3. Exactly, Adam. This is why I included both. I also tried to have a wide variety of sample poems written in fairly recent times. Since this is such an old form, I could've offered up some middle ages stuff, but figured if people got THAT excited with narrative form, people could google it! So glad you are writing!

  4. I am feeling uninspired to write poetry today, doesn't have anything to do with your prompt though. I just am feeling unable to write today so I shared several of my older poems that are story like.

  5. I am in awe of all the amazing narrative poetry I'm reading from you all today! Really, I'm charmed, inspired, uplifted, and enthralled. So glad I decided to take the OctPoWriMo journey.

  6. I didn't start to sweat when I read this prompt, but I do confess to a serious eye roll! "Gah! Not a narrative poem! UGH!" It seems, though, that my muse was intrigued. This came to me far easier that I expected. Thank you for the shove out of my comfort zone!