Yet another lesson that I have learned from writing a poem every day!
When every word counts for ten, you’ve got to make sure that those words really say something. Poems by nature have shorter lines, shorter phrases, and (at least it seems to me) a whole lot more words. This isn’t to say that novels and short stories don’t require large vocabularies – because of course they do. But in novel repeat words are common, expected, and accepted.* In poetry, repeating words too much, especially simple words, detracts from the poem. (Of course, I am not including the device of repetition in this discussion – that is a different matter.) If, for instance, I write a poem about happiness or sadness and the only words I can think of are sorrow or joy, no one will want to read that poem! But if I thing of words like languishing, desperation, anticipation, radiance, effervescent, and trepidation, people will be more likely to feel the meaning of my words.
And that is what poetry in particular (and writing in general) is all about: making people feel.
So I encourage you to read your dictionary. Search for GRE or SAT or ACT words online. Even “words every high school graduate should know” has taught me a few new ones, and I’ve been out of high school for a while.
Take care, fellow travelers.
*Though of course certain unfamiliar words ought not be repeated to frequently, even in prose.