I have been reading quite a few novels recently and have found myself wondering - do poets make better prose writers? I can't help but read prose with a poet's eye for detail and because of this I am keenly aware of mistakes, mixed metaphors and unintentional repetitions - things that you would never get away with in (good) poetry. It seems that one can be more sloppy in prose writing.
I am currently reading "Double Vision" by Pat Barker. It is not a bad book although I would not call it literary, the story is compelling but I feel that it could have been better edited. There are repetitions of description - for example she uses the metaphor of fire to describe the way light falls on snow or ice, the first time it was fresh and original but she uses it three times in as many pages. There are also other annoying little niggles - most of the time the characters either drink coffee or whiskey whatever the time of night or day - this seemed unrealistic to me, not many people roused in the night by nightmares would choose coffee as their drink of choice.
This may be nitpicking and it could be that being so successful means that Barker is less rigorously edited by other people - a criticism which is often levelled at J.K. Rowling. But it made me think about the books I come back to again and again because not only are they good stories but they are well written, and I realised that most of the authors I love are also poets (Louise Erdrich, Anne Michaels, Paul Auster, Mervyn Peake). As a poet the economy of words used means that you have to be more rigorous with your editing - there is no choice, so it follows that this would also apply to your prose writing. However I also find that fiction writers who are also poets use language in fresh and original ways. That's not to say that there aren't fresh and original prose writers because of course there are.
This led me to look at what I as a reader want from a book. What makes a book great for me is if I am moved by both the story and the writing. With Pat Barker's book the story is moving but the writing itself is not. Maybe I am greedy but I want both, I want the prose to have that indefinable quality that makes it memorable and makes me want to read it again.