April 12, 2016

Friday, May 14, 2010

Prose Poetry Friday or a Flash Fiction Fete?

Happy Poetry Friday! I'm still working through the 50 States.

It was Minnesota's 152nd birthday this week. It became the 32nd state on May 11, 1858.

The North Star State has had a poet laureate since 1934, but the position wasn't made official until recently (2007). Why?

In 2005, then-Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a Minnesota poet laureate bill, citing fears that an official poet laureate would lead to "a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter." Read more about it at the Library of Congress.

Current state poet laureate Robert Bly is only the third to hold the lifetime post.

I love his poem "Conversation with a Mouse," which is in the Poetry Speaks to Children anthology. If you've never discussed that poem with little ones, you're in for a treat!

My friend Christine Stewart of the Maryland State Arts Council and I were having a "warm" Facebook discussion about prose poems. (Read a definition of the term at the Academy of American Poets.)

She says, stop being lazy and work your line breaks.

I say, some narratives lend themselves to the form. If you force them into poetic lines, you pull the threads out of the story. Build them into a short fiction piece, the images lose their focus.

What do you think? In the era of Flash Fiction, is there a place for prose poems?

Here is a prose poem by Robert Bly to help you ponder the question.

A Caterpillar on the Desk

by Robert Bly

          Lifting my coffee cup, I notice a caterpillar crawling over my sheet of ten-cent airmail stamps. The head is black as a Chinese box. Nine soft accordions follow it around, with a waving motion, like a flabby mountain. Skinny brushes used to clean pop bottles rise from some of its shoulders. As I pick up the sheet of stamps, the caterpillar advances around and around the edge, and I see his feet: three pairs under the head, four spongelike pairs under the middle body, and two final pairs at the tip, pink as a puppy's hind legs. As he walks, he rears, six pairs of legs off the stamp, waving around the air! One of the sponge pairs, and the last two tail pairs, the reserve feet, hold on anxiously.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Still haven't decided? Here's an extra prose poem -- one of my favorites -- "A Story about the Body" by Robert Hass, with commentary by Robert Pinsky.

My friend Jama Rattigan is hosting Poetry Friday at her wonderful blog, Alphabet Soup today. Stop by for something poetic and tasty!


all things poetry said...

Hi Laura,

I think there definitely is a place for prose poems. All poetry is playing with language. And part of playing with language is placing language into different forms. Haiku may be a drop on a slide under a microscope, a lyric poem could be language dropped into a Waterford crystal glass, two different forms, but both playgrounds giving different shape to language.

Further, when a row of crystal glasses are filled with various amounts of water, then the sound of the glasses will strike various tones so that musical notes can be played by rubbing the top of different glasses. By varying the order in which the glasses are played, you can create a song. Just as by arranging the lines into a prose poem creates a distinctive song from lines arranged in standard poems.

Filling up different forms (glasses or slides, etc.) will emit different sounds (notes). Poetry is an oral art. The sound of words in "Jabberwocky" makes the poem meaningful and enjoyable. Whereas in fiction/nonfiction the story line or facts or other elements takes precedence over sound.

So the prose poem may be like a finely cut Waterford crystal glass which allows highlights of various aspects of language as well as produces an individualized tune.

By the way, "Conversation with a Mouse" is such a cute, fun poem.

Laura Evans

Author Amok said...

I agree with you about the prose poem. One of my favorite revision techniques is putting a drafted poem into different forms. Sometimes I find a good fit. Other times, I reject the form (triolet is a fave) but trying it out reveals important moments in the poem. I do like the prose poem for brief narratives and portraits.

"Conversation with a Mouse" is great for talking to kids about the breadth of subject matter for poetry. It goes from a mouse's nest to the Milky Way in just a few lines!