Q1: WHAT is narrative poetry? How can we do this WELL?
Mallory Tater: Narrative poetry is when you mix story with lyricism in a way that loosely or tightly give the poem plot or even very precise authorial intention to take the reader on a journey of tension or atmosphere like you’d see in prose.
There are so many good approaches that result in strong poems—one I use when teaching is to achieve a strong narrative poem, the writer should figure out what they’d like the ending to look like or sound like in advance for the voice, sense of place and tension/conflict to exist smoothly and so that the poem’s central themes can accessibly shine for the reader by the conclusion of the poem.
Q2: Can you name a few writers who are narrative poetry pros?
MT: Philip Levine! Marie Howe! Ann Carson!
Q3: What would you say to those who say poetry cannot be story?
MT: Compelling characterization/voice which is what makes a good poem, is often explored well through story, shared experience, or reflection. Often times, I feel, what makes a strong poem people like to recite, return to, teach or share will be poems that hold some of its weight rooted in a good narrative.
Q4: What are some tips for a writer just starting out writing narrative poetry?
MT: Trust your voice and authorial intention. Try to keep your truth and story intact when using poetic devices such as hyperbole or metaphor. Think of yourself as the reader at the end of two or three drafts and try to objectively ask yourself if the narrative elements are truly clear. Then find a peer reader, mentor or friend who can read and provide feedback on the structural skeleton and also the lyrical muscles of the piece. And don’t be sad if the poem needs to go through many, many drafts. It’s not tumbling down each time you have to rewrite—it’s building up to a good place, slowly and steadily. Old drafts assist in growing that poem to a place you’re happy with. And, though you may want to, don’t throw them out. Watch the growth happen. And keep the growth archived to return to.
Q5: One minute of fame: tell us all about what you are working on and what's to come!!!
MT: My novel The Birth Yard is forthcoming with HarperCollins in 2020 and I am thrilled about trying on my fiction hat for size. The book is dark but with many speckled moments of light. It’s about a cult. But it’s also about platonic love. It’s about feminism. It’s about body politics. It’s about growing up. It’s about questioning your positionality in the world for the better. Mostly, it’s about a journey of confidence and identity for a young woman who hasn’t been given what she needs in her society to learn self-love.
Mallory Tater is a writer from Ottawa living in Vancouver. Her debut book of poetry This Will Be Good (Book*hug Press) was released in Spring 2018. She is the publisher of Rahila’s Ghost Press, a poetry chapbook press. Her debut novel THE BIRTH YARD is being released with HarperCollins Canada in 2020.