Many people have tried to define how a novel or short story differs from a poem. Here’s an answer from May Sarton, who wrote fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She was commenting on Theodore Roethke’s line, “I learn by going where I have to go.”
“In the novel or short story you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival.”
May Sarton in an interview with Karen Saum that appears in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Seventh Series (Viking, 1986). Edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by John Updike.
Comment by Janice Harayda:
You can argue with Sarton’s comment (as she implicitly acknowledges when she goes on to say in the interview that, with free verse, you can “get the journey”). But I like her definition partly because it gets away from the issue of length. This is important because many contemporary short stories are so short that they have fewer words than some epic or narrative poems.
How would you define the difference between fiction and poetry?
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.