prose poetry

I’ve just been in Nottingham, at the university, attending a series of poetry workshops and trying to re-connect to poetry. I’m not sure I’ve achieved that, but since the blog hasn’t been updated for a week, it seems appropriate to post something about the weekend, and, maybe, something I wrote while there.

One of the workshops was on prose poetry. I have long been puzzled about the limits between prose and poetry and had hoped the workshop might help to clarify things for me. The tutor, Laressa Dickey, started with a few short texts from The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano. We’d aready seen a couple by him in Dickey’s ‘Short Series’ workshops, but, much as I liked the writing, I can’t feel it’s really poetry; to me, it feels more like flash fiction.

On the other hand, The Colonel by Carolyn Forché seems to me to be quite clearly a poem. (Based on the poet’s experience in El Salvador, it’s not a pleasant read. Here, there’s an audio file of the author herself reading the piece.) Interestingly, on this page of discussion about The Colonel, in an interview with Bill Moyers, Forché herself is quoted as saying, “It took me years to accept it as a poem and not just a block of memory.”

Other poets whose work was read include Charles Simic (two pieces from The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems), Louis Jenkins (The Prose Poem), Gary Young (extracts from No Other Life), Joseph Stroud (two pieces from Below Cold Mountain), Czeslaw Milosz (You Don’t Know) and Laynie Brown (extracts from the series White).

We discussed the language techniques being used and some of the similarities and differences of approach. Some used patterns and changes in sentence length to establish rhythm as might be created by line breaks. Some used alliteration and other sound techniques. There was repetition, both of specific words and of concepts described using synonyms. There were ‘punch lines’ and apparent turns in the discourse.

Essentially, there was no single defining factor, and they took advantage of all the tools used by skilled writers of any genre.

But at the end of the day, some of them still seemed more like poems and some more like prose. I think I need to go on mulling over the ideas.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

One thought on “prose poetry”

  1. Tangentially speaking, it seems to me that English is a poor language in which to attempt prose poems. French (to mention only one language that’s more rationally organised than English) has about eight vowel sounds and a dozen or two consonants, and about a handful of regular word-endings. Assonance and rhyming proliferate, with the result that even a French railway timetable sounds excessively poetical to English ears.

    I don’t think you can really have prose poetry in English, because I don’t think there’s anything difficult about avoiding poetical effects in English.

    “What are sometimes called prose poems in English are merely verse poems with the line breaks left out.” – Discuss.


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