Seasonal Salon

PROSE POEMS: SONG IN STORY, STORY IN SONG

Poetry is, unfortunately, an art that is not commonly practiced. Our schools encourage a vision of poetry as difficult, arcane, abstruse. Our romantic vision of the artist encourages envisioning poets as geniuses, not like normal folk at all. Both discourage the practice of poetry, which in many cultures is considered something like dreaming, an innate human capacity.

One reason for the disengagement of most women from poetry is the antithesis that it seems to offer to natural speech. We speak in prose, we imagine; sentences, paragraphs, even essays. We don’t speak in verse. Thus prose seems easier, more natural, than poetry. Yet each is artificial. If you listen to any average conversation, you’ll notice how choppy and unformed it is, compared to the most rudimentary paragraph. There is nothing more natural about prose than poetry, nor is it—as any freshman essayist can attest—easier.

The false distinction between poetry and prose is clearly visible in the prose-poem, a hybrid form which organizes itself by paragraphs rather than by stanzas. This is arguably the only difference between poetry and prose-poetry. Instead of lines that end according to meter (or, in free verse, according to breath-units), prose-poems have sentences or sentence fragments that are organized into apparent paragraphs.

It looks like prose, but it does not read like prose. Prose-poetry has the same kind of intensity as poetry. It does not seek to explain, as good prose does, but rather to evoke and invoke, like a good poem.

Prose-poetry is an excellent discipline for those who have either been discouraged from finding their poetic voice or have been trapped in poetic convention that results in rhyming doggeral. The process is exactly like that of writing a poem: listen to the inner voice until you feel yourself moved by something (an image, a word, a vision, a story). When you begin writing, try to hold that inspiring moment in mind. Don’t try to explain its significance, try to capture it. You can inventing words, use grammatically strained or invented forms, or otherwise break the rules of traditional prose. Go right ahead; use your poetic license. It’s your womanly birthright.

© Patricia Monaghan ~ All rights reserved

Category: Fall Equinox 2004