The other day Greek poet/novelist/journalist Alexis Stamatis visited my class. I asked him a bunch of questions, including one about writing both poetry and fiction, and whether one genre can strengthen the other. I surprised to hear that he didn't share my opinion that poetry and fiction complement each other. In fact, he said that you need to turn your poetry machine off if you want to write good fiction (I'm paraphrasing; he didn't call it a poetry machine).
How do you feel about this, especially those of you who write in multiple genres?
I ultimately chose to focus on poetry because the workshop photocopies were cheaper, but I don't think I ever had the attention span to be a good fiction writer. I took a number of fiction workshops and enjoyed them, and didn't hate the stories, and when I was able to turn that machine off and switch over to poetry, it was exhilarating. I still read fiction for pleasure. Reading it is even more helpful than writing it.
When I write stories they aren't the long versions of my poems, just with all of the left out parts left in. They come from a separate impulse. Like singing versus playing the piano. It's all music. Fiction reminds me of what I love in poetry: story, but story told through detail. Writing fiction makes me impatient, in a good way.
Some day, maybe when I'm on sabbatical, I'm going to give fiction another try. You hear that, Wasserman?
Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, I'm sure that you read this blog all of the time and wouldn't mind responding at length. So let's hear your view on it.
In the meantime, what do others think?