Using poetry to write fiction, part one

A technique that I have used to write poetry works like this.

1. Find a poem written in a language that I don’t know. Ideally, it’s a language that is at least related to one that I do know so that I sort of know where the verbs and nouns are, but it’s not really necessary for me to be able to figure that out.

2. As best I can, I sound out the first line of the poem.

3. I say to myself, “If I understood this language, what would this line mean?”

4. I write down that line in appropriately poetic English.

5. Repeat for the second line, and then for each line in turn until I have a “translation” of the poem.

The resulting poems sometimes stand on their own as poems, but at other times they give me an idea for a story as the poem turns out to be spoken in the voice of an interesting character, a character who knows things that I don’t myself know, who has had unexpected and often bizarre experiences.


  1. Bruce, I loved this post! I think this is genius. Have you used this technique in any of your teaching?

    I purloined a quote and linked back to it for my most recent post here:

    Please let me know if you’d like it done differently.

    You constantly inspire!

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