Why write poetry as a story. Because people need a story and characters in order to keep reading. It is the story that pulls in a reader in the first page and keeps a reader reading more and more. And its characters that provide the additional impetus in keeping the reader interested. So how does one inculcate these elements, traditionally associated with prose, into poetry?
It is sad that most poetry today is purely random thought, disconnected from one another without any real flow of idea and theme from one stanza to another and from one poem to another. When Dark Rooms A saga (Publish America, 2002), my first collection of poetry, was selected for publication as a collection, it had collected dust for fifteen years. Most of the poems in the collection had been published in various anthologies, but never gained any real recognition. It is sad that a lot of very good poetry goes into making these anthologies, but even good poetry gets lost in the midst of a million other poems. I learnt a few lessons. Firstly, for achieving recognition, these individual poems need to consolidated into a book, into a collection. Secondly, the collection has to be of a particular theme so it interests a particular audience. For example, poetry written about a particular place or a town would interest people who have lived there or can attribute to the place. Thirdly, especially if the poetry has to do with inner feelings, which is what most poetry presumably is, try to show the very same emotions through a set of characters embedded in a story. The poems in Dark Rooms would have gone to the grave with me had it not been for one little change. I rewrote them as a story the story of Gopal. Thus, it is essential to inculcate poetry into the framework of a theme, or even better, a story and to present poetry through the characters of the story.
So, how does a poet go about writing poetry as a story? Firstly, to start off with, come up with a story. The storyline does not have to be as involved as a novel but it should go with the general mood of your poetry. Since, it is difficult to write new poems in the framework of a pre-conceived storyline, since most poetry is just pure thought, it would be easier to fit a set of existing poems into the story. In other words, write the poems first as your own feelings and thoughts and then fit them into the characters of a story.
Once you have a story line and the required poems that would go into the story, filter out poems that are completely outside the scope of the story. Take the remaining poems and fit them into the thought process of the characters in the story. Distribute the poems over various characters, focusing on two or three characters that drive the story. Tweak the poems to make them flow with the story. Even write additional poems that act as glues and bring all the poems seamlessly together.
Focus on the opening poem and the climactic one and make sure these are interesting and leave an impact on the readers mind. It is the first poem that sets the mood for the rest of the book and it is the last poem that the reader will eventually remember, so these have to be the very best writing you have ever done.
Finally, break up the book into two or three sections, just like in a novel. And then, you have a story in verse.