How Poetry and Journalism Intersect for Me

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From time to time, I feature guest posts on this blog, and today’s post shares how poetry and journalism intersects for John B Lane. Personally, I love looking at how the various forms of writing intersect.

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John B Lane is an award-winning author and instructional designer, as well as a pioneer in online learning. He began his professional career as a journalist, and has written for numerous publications, including TheWashington Post and Huffington Post. His newest book is The Beatin' Path- a lyrical guide to lucid evolution, a mindful book featuring an orchestra of poetry, prose, and artwork that guides readers toward free-thinking and self-discovery.

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How Poetry and Journalism Intersect for Me

 John B Lane

John B Lane

As writers, we don't often think of poetry as journalism, or journalism as poetry. But having written both professionally, I think they share fundamental elements that, if we're mindful of them, can make us better poets, better journalists, and better writers.

Most importantly, the purpose of both poetry and journalism is to provide an account of that which is true. And the most noble service a writer can render is the elevation and celebration of truth.

To be sure, there are types of poetry and journalism which exist within their own highly-structured forms. But there are more fluid forms of poetry and journalism – for example, free verse, and the New Journalism style popularized by Tom Wolfe, which minimize the boundaries between each type of writing so they grow closer together stylistically. Meanwhile, truth remains the common substance of the messages.

Examples of Distilled Truth

Here are a few classic examples of distilled truth that you may not have thought of as poetry and/or journalism, but which I believe represent both:

  • Vini, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered.) Alliteration and rhyme; in six syllables, Julius Caesar reported the Battle of Zela. Is it poetry? Is it journalism? Yes.
  • Je pense, donc je suis. (I think, therefore I am.) In five syllables, René Descartes made an argument in support of reality itself, and therefore, of objective truth.
  • E= mc2. (Energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared.) Albert Einstein's brief masterpiece conveys profound truths about the universe with the concision and balance of a perfect poem.

There is a perception that journalism is most often written quickly, under deadline, with minimal revision, whereas poetry is a slow and tedious process in which the poet agonizes over every syllable and line in search of an ideal. And that this is so because journalists merely cobble together details of something that has already happened, whereas poets capture dispatches from the soul.

Combining Journalism and Poetry

When I wrote The Beatin' Path, which includes elements of journalism and poetry, I had to work around a full-time day job which did not permit me the luxury of hours struggling over each word. But I discovered a process that allowed me to make a virtue of necessity, and to enjoy the experience of writing a book in stolen moments – and thereby to maximize the virtues of poetry and journalism.

After researching the topics I intended to include in the book, I wrestled with which "voice" to use, because I knew that a book about transcending common ways of thinking had to reflect its own theme. It couldn't look or feel like a typical book as I was advocating for fresh ways of doing things.

Having prepared my conscious mind with research and ideas, I then allowed my subconscious to process and crystalize them. I committed myself to being present whenever my subconscious mind presented its work to me, and to capturing each full idea to completion, when and how it arrived.

I found that these completed ideas often came forth in the morning, between the time I woke up, and the time I got out of bed. Or while in the shower. (I keep a pencil and waterproof "Rite in the Rain" notebook by the bed and near the shower at all times.)

I was often surprised and delighted with the different styles and voices my subconscious writer came up with. For example, I had read a 400-page book on scientific method as part of my research. But how would I condense its themes for the purposes of my book?

Putting It Into Action

One morning, I woke up with a short poem in my head. Before my feet touched the floor that day, I had written "Parsimony," which is the name of a central concept in scientific method. (Parsimony is a synonym for Occam’s razor; e.g., that the simplest solution tends to be the best solution.) The poem turned out to be its own form of parsimony:

Oh, I've tried my share of razors,
Gillette and all the rest.
But when I crave a clean, close shave –
Occam’s is the best!

Will this method work for you? Who knows, but why not give it a try? Prepare your mind with information and ideas, let your subconscious process the input, be present to capture the full idea as it comes forth, and if you need to, fine-tune it later. At all times, follow the truth, as a poet, a journalist, or better yet – the best of both.

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