Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

My poem, “Ojibwe Horses” was just published in “The Nemadji Review,” a literary magazine published by students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. If you’d like to read my poem, look for it on page 8 in the PDF found here. As far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that a horse is on the cover.

You may recall that I wrote a story about this rare breed of horses for “Lake Superior Magazine.” (Read about that process here.) It’s become one of my missions lately to increase public awareness about these lovely animals and their plight. To expand the reach of my magazine story, I decided to write a poem based on it. I had never done this before. Shrinking a 2,560-word story into a 290-word poem was not easy! But it was a fun exercise and it reminded me about the differences between poetry and prose. How could I distill the essence of my experience with the horses? How could I offer captivating images and feelings? What was most important to say?

Getting the poem to this point took several rewrites, one rejection, and more rewrites, but I think it works. I sent it to one of the Ojibwe horse owners who I interviewed for my story, and she loved it, which is the best compliment I could ever hope for.

This is the first time I’ve been published in “The Nemadji Review.” We had a virtual book launch reading for the journal recently. Seeing the young crew who worked on it made me feel like the love of literature is alive and well in the next generation. It will be exciting to follow the careers of these talented students.

Back in the early-1980s, I was part of a group of students at the University of Minnesota who started a literary magazine for undergraduates. To the best of my recollection, we named it “Undercurrents.” It was a small publication, 5 x 7 inches, with a blue cardstock cover and a stapled binding. It contained art, poetry, and stories.

I only worked on the first issue. I can’t remember if “Undercurrents” continued after that or not. I think I stopped participating because I wasn’t satisfied with the process we used to choose the journal content. The process probably wasn’t objective enough for me, or maybe poems I really liked didn’t make the cut, or maybe both! But that initial experience is probably what made me comfortable stepping up to coordinate literary contests later in life for the Lake Superior Writers group.

I just did a search, and the U of MN has a literary journal for undergraduates now, called “Tower.” I’m glad to see what we started has continued, even if it has a different name now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the poem. And if you’re a writer, I would encourage you to connect with local community colleges and universities – many open submissions to their literary journals to community members, not only students. It’s a way to support learning by students and could lead to a nice publication credit on your literary resume.

4 thoughts on “Turning a Magazine Story into a Poem

    • Oh man, Neil, good question! Each form has its challenges. But I would have to say that writing poetry is more challenging. You need to think about the function of every word and every bit of punctuation. It seems to me a “higher” form of writing than straight prose.

  1. Since I had already read your story, I went to the magazine site to see how you managed to tell your story in poetry form. Well done! I got the same message as the story. Turning a prose into poetry is an interesting concept. I don’t think I have ever attempted to turn one of my stories into a poem. And not sure I could do it. Congratulations, Marie, and TGIF to you!

    • Thanks for reading my poem (and story)! I recently had the priviledge of reading a poem about a flood survivor that was written by a poet who got the idea from reading a newspaper account. The poem was so well-written, I thought the poet had been through the experience herself. Her poem was so empathetic and contained so much detail — it seemed a whole ‘nother step above turning a personal story into a poem. So there’s that to consider, too! I’m sure such “story to poem” exercises must be standard practice in poetry classes, but it was a new idea to me. Happy weekend to you, too!

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