Prose Poems: A Question and An Answer #poetry #MondayBlogs

For my online poetry class last week, we discussed the “prose poem.”  Now I remember from (way) back in the day when I was intrigued by prose poems because they seemed less intimidating than the usual poetry forms.  Prose poems seemed more like writing flash fiction or flash nonfiction.  Something I could do without having to worry about meter and foots and stuff like that. 

One of the discussion forums presented three examples of prose poetry as a “slippery bean”: too far one way and it becomes flash fiction; too far the other way and it may become a lyrical essay.  Then the question: “Is the prose poem’s proximity to other genres the danger of the prose poem or the benefit of it?”

Those who know me well know that I don’t care for how (any) writing is categorized.  Read on for the three examples and for my response.  Finally, if you’re still with me, read to the end for my own “prose poem.”

***

Prose poem by Charles Simic:

I ran into the poet Mark Strand on the street. He immediately challenged me by drinking a glass of wine while standing on his head. I was astonished. He didn’t even spill a drop. It was one of the bottles Baudelaire stole from his stepfather the Ambassador in 1848. “Is this what is known as subjective reality?” I asked. Years ago this same Strand translated a famous Quechua poem about a man raising a fly with wings of gold in a green bottle, and now look at him!

An excerpt from a piece of flash fiction, “Continuity of the Parks,” by Julio Cortázar:

He had begun to read the novel a few days before. He had put it aside because of some urgent business conferences, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he permitted himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the characterizations. That afternoon, after writing a letter giving his power of attorney and discussing a matter of joint ownership with the manager of his estate, he returned to the book in the tranquility of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, its back toward the door–even the possibility of an intrusion would have irritated him, had he thought of it–he let his left hand caress repeatedly the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. He remembered effortlessly the names and his mental image of the characters; the novel spread its glamour over him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from the things around him, and at the same time feeling his head rest comfortably on the green velvet of the chair with its high back, sensing that the cigarettes rested within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the air of afternoon danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, licked up the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin.

A lyric essay (section of a book-length one) by Maggie Nelson from Bluets:

Some things do change, however. A membrane can simply rip off your life, like a skin of congealed paint torn off the top of a can. I remember that day very clearly: I had received a phone call. A friend had been in an accident. Perhaps she would not live. She had very little face, and her spine was broken in two places. She had not yet moved; the doctor described her as “a pebble in water.” I walked around Brooklyn and noticed that the faded periwinkle of the abandoned Mobil gas station on the corner was suddenly blooming. In the baby-shit yellow showers at my gym, where snow sometimes fluttered in through the cracked gated windows, I noticed that the yellow paint was peeling in spots, and a decent, industrial blue was trying to creep in. At the bottom of the swimming pool, I watched the white winter light spangle the cloudy blue and I knew together they made God. When I walked into my friend’s hospital room, her eyes were a piercing, pale blue and the only part of her body that could move. I was scared. So was she. The blue was beating.

My response:

I’m reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver which is a long read not just because it’s a long book, but there so much poetry in the language of the narrative.  I don’t like “pigeon-holing” writing:  this is a poem, this is an essay, this is flash fiction.  I think prose poetry’s proximity to fiction (or nonfiction) enhances the read, at least for me.  Must it be one or the other?  If each of the three pieces Mary shared “works,” does the genre matter?  I’m not trying to argue.  It’s the lowest common denominator effect of classification that troubles me.  I work with data at my day job, and see daily the loss of information (poetry?) when we produce aggregated results, that data that speaks only to the largest groupings of people; for example, Hispanic, Non-Hispanic White, Non-Hispanic Black.  It’s a necessity in my line of work (public health), but it doesn’t help the people who don’t fit neatly into those categories.

My prose poem (submitted assignment):

I felt the staccato snap of each vertebrae in my spine as I lengthened and then twisted my torso in Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, and wondered how much longer I could keep looking up at the ceiling before I lost all feeling in my neck.  The yogi urges me to take two more waves of breath and then release—slowly—back up to Virabhadrasana II, Warrior Two.  Pause.  Then I am exhorted to drop my right arm down and behind, grazing my hand against the back of my left thigh, and lift my left arm, shining my heart to the ceiling for Reverse, or Proud, Warrior.  I inhale, then exhale, then inhale and slowly straighten my left leg for Stargazer, my favorite pose because it reminds of you.  I imagine us both reaching for the stars, me metaphorically and you literally with your fancy camera and telescope.  The shutter of your camera snaps in time with my spine.

A Long Slog #poetry #MondayBlogs

As some of you may know, I am taking an online poetry writing course through the University of Iowa (FREE!).  Just finished Week 3.  Being that the course is FREE, students have the option to do as little or as much as they want.  But if you want a certificate of participation, you have a lot to do:  post a minimum of 1 writing assignment per week; post feedback to 5 of your peers’ writing assignments; and post comments to 5 forum discussions.  So that’s 11 posts a week that I have to write, and the feedback/discussion posts have to have more content than just, “Hey, I really liked your poem” or “Hey, I’m really enjoying this discussion.”  And the certificate is NOT free.  It’s 50 bucks.  I’m not complaining about the cost.  Just wish I didn’t care/wasn’t trying to be qualified to pay it.  The long slog is me trying to keep up with this class while working a day job and having the heavy weight of other projects looming over me.

I have books to read and book reviews to write.  If you’re someone who is expecting a review from me, I’m doing the best I can.  If you’re not, then good. That gives me more room to breathe.

It doesn’t help that I was “conscripted” to contribute my crocheting “talents” to making something for someone I work for.  It’s doesn’t help that the deadline for that project is really looming (casting a shadow over what was to be a sunny weekend).  I only hope that by the time this post publishes, I’ll have met that deadline, which will give me more room to breathe.

So what am I getting out of this course that makes me willing to push aside all my other commitments for a few weeks?  Besides that the fact that it’s a good excuse for writing?

I can count the number of poems I’ve written in my lifetime on two hands.  But I feel pulled toward poetry for some reason, and so I slog on.

Here’s one of my assignments from Week 2:  making a poem out of a word cloud, as discussed by Carol Light.

My word cloud: assault fault naught caught brought bring brung rung dung human no-man ampersand neverland broken spoken forsaken waken waking breaking bleating repeating deleting meeting maker baker tailor mender contender relentless dauntless gauntlet junket monkey loving doves roves moves grooves moods fissures tissues issues

Here’s the “poem”:

Not my fault the assault caught
the mender, the contender
with his relentless bleating.
The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand from Neverland.

One of my peers suggested I edit the poem to read like this:

Ignore the relentless beating

It’s not my fault
The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand from Neverland.

I like this:

Not my fault.

The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand

from Neverland.

Another peer suggested I look up calligram and maybe write the poem as an ampersand … wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Poem: She Burned Bright #Mondayblogs #poetry

The following poem was published on The Community Storyboard way back in June 2013.  I confess this re-post is in part because I’m at a loss for new material.  The well runneth dry at the moment.  But another reason is because I’m preparing to take a free online class on how to write poetry.  The course is through the University of Iowa International Writing Program.  You can find more information about by clicking here.

This poem is in memory of Wendy BishopShe was my mentor when I began my master’s in English program back in 1990.  I had a teaching assistantship and she was director of the teaching program, so we had frequent meetings.  I recognized a kindred spirit in her: we had both lived on the West Coast, we both had liberal views relative to those in the region where we now lived, we were close in age, and we were introverts.  But I was intimidated by the depth and breadth of her ever-growing portfolio and shied away at times when I should have been close at her heels.  We kept in touch off and on over the years until she died from leukemia at the young age of 50, in November 2003.  She was always incredibly busy, but always, always smiling and writing.

I miss her still.

***

They laid their hands side by side

She marveled

At how much alike they were

The one near death

The other nearest life

The one near death

Burned bright

With beach-bleached hair

Sandy skin

A smile an ocean-wide

She burned bright

And hummed through

Dot-matrix printers and laserjets

A low constant hum of life in words

Paper cascading from their mouths

Laid end to end they would circle the earth

And wrap it tight like a silk girdle

She burned bright

Writing more in her one-half-century

Than most could have written in two

She burned bright

The one near death

And marveled at her daughter’s hands, so like her own

She burned . . .

. . . out

And grown men cried

And grown women sighed

And I

who so wanted to be like her, she who burned bright

Stopped breathing

***

 

May Wonders Never Cease to Exist

Although I occasionally write poetry, I don’t make a fuss about it because I so rarely do it.  And because I’m never quite sure if I should call it poetry.  My poems don’t rhyme.  They don’t have a recognizable meter or structure (and I don’t even know what I mean by that, either).  They don’t measure up to the poetry of Luanne Castle or Pamela Beckford.  But I write them anyway.

And sometimes I actually submit a poem for publication.  On a lark, as it were.  As I did with this one poem, When I Said Goodbye.  I submitted it to Tipsy Lit, an indie publisher founded by novelist and poet Ericka Clay.  To my happy surprise, Ericka accepted my poem and recently published it in Volume 1 of the Tipsy 10, available free on Wattpad.

Tipsy 10 Vol 1 Cover

If you want to go directly to my poem, here’s the link:  http://www.wattpad.com/112392439-the-tipsy-10-volume-i-when-i-said-goodbye.  But be sure to read the other poems.  I am honored to have my poem among them.

Experimental Poem/Prose: Bonita’s Song

This “experimental” “poem” (feel like I should put both words separated in quotes because I rarely write like this) was previously published on The Community Storyboard.

* * *

She called me her little Puerto Rican.

I was too young to remember, she said.

 Not until I was an adult,

and she lay on her bed, her white hair spread like a fan on the pillow,

her wrinkled, spotted hands folded on her chest,

her opaque eyes fixed on the bluebird outside her window.

(more…)

Beowulf and Seamus Heaney

I haven’t read much poetry in my life, outside the required English literature classes of my university days.  And yet I was grieved to hear that Seamus Heaney had died.  Many years ago I had gotten an audio of Heaney reading Beowulf.  I had read Beowulf even more years before and fell in love with the story and the music of the language.  But nothing had prepared me for Heaney’s rendition.  Both of these clips are about an hour long.  If you prefer simple audio, click here to go to Audible.com.

And why now?  Why not this post in immediate virtual time after the announcement of Heaney’s death?  Well, I had to think about it.  In writing about Heaney, I am not trying to draw people to me.  I don’t need to be the first or the second or even the thousandth to tweet his death.

This post was prompted by an essay in The New York Review of Books, a periodical that we have been subscribing to for years, that I used to read cover to cover upon arrival, that I used to use for research while I was a Lit major.  I’ve missed the last few months, the awkwardly large newsprint strewn in piles across my house.  And then recently I pulled out one issue at random, Oct. 10, 2013.  On page 10 is a one-page essay by Fintan O’Toole, titled Seamus Heaney (1939-2013).  This essay is my first introduction to Heaney’s poetry.  O’Toole says, “Poetry is language held taut by being stretched between the poles of completing desires.”  That alone is reason to read any poetry, but especially that of Seamus Heaney.

For the Lady Ionia, Queen of the Blogosphere

I have shielded my eyes against her bright beauty, her brilliant wit, her shining soul.
I have bowed before her rapier tongue, welcoming the fiery warmth of its lashes against my back.
I have kissed the coal-burning footprints she leaves behind as she tours her universe.
I am but one of her many minions, grateful to be counted among them.

I speak in hyperbole, but I speak with love.
I speak with a sly smile, but my heart breaks.
I speak only a few words, but my mind explodes with all else that I want to say.

I beg the forces that be, let her rise again.
Let me again feel her fiery words as they blaze through the fiber optics of our connection.

The heat of her love purifies me.
Her words sing to me.
Her generosity humbles me.
Her silence is deafening.

I beg the forces that be, bring her back from the ashes,

Victorious.

******************************************************************

For context, here are two related posts. Please read Ionia first.

Ionia

Helen Valentina

Briana Vedsted

Belinda

photo credit: allspice1 via photopin cc

For Ionia

A beautiful, emotionally charged dedication to our Ionia!

helenvalentina

I wish for you a dragon’s fire
To breathe freedom to you
To raise you up on crystal wings
Far away from darker lands

It seems the purest souls
Are tested most these days
As though in exchange for generosity
Come ravages and pain
And so I cry to the heavens
Not this, not this again!
Let this dear friend find
Safe passage home
Victorious and complete

Hear me universe
Hear me now!

The essence of the earth to rise and comfort you
The essence of water, to quench your soul’s thirst
The essence of air, to gift you wide expanses
The essence of fire, to burn away all pain
I invoke all the elements
To be with you now
And bring you back to us safe
And healed in body and soul.

(c) Helen Valentina 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Championship for the Ages Round 3!

Round 3. Formidable poets, but you can only vote for one.

Bonita’s Song

Mine. Have a read 🙂

The Community Storyboard

She called me her little Puerto Rican.

I was too young to remember, she said.

Not until I was an adult,

and she lay on her bed, her white hair spread like a fan on the pillow,

her wrinkled, spotted hands folded on her chest,

her opaque eyes fixed on the bluebird outside her window.

But I remembered me then

Dark chocolate hair

Black eyes

Skin that colored dark tea in the summer sun

Not at all like her

Cornsilk hair

Emerald eyes

Skin so fair that the sun burned it out of jealousy

She called me her little Puerto Rican.

A few had migrated to our part of the state, up from the City.

They were not like us whose arms were sun-stroked brown and shoulders marble white.

They were brown all over, a brown that suggested earth and warmth and something sweet.

There was one that…

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