prose poems

2 posts

3 Sentences, 1 Poem


Some students, many good writers, claim that they just don’t “do” poetry. Too difficult. Too many rules. Too much of a challenge.

To which I say, “OK, then. Pick a topic that interests you and write descriptive prose. When you’re happy, we’ll look at ways to convert it.”

Purists may frown upon such practices, and naysayers may jeer that it reveals poetry for what it really is—plain old sentences broken willy-nilly into lines, but who ever listens to purists and naysayers? White noise at the fringes isn’t worth anyone’s time.

As an experiment, let’s work the other way. Here’s a Marge Piercy poem written out as a three-sentence paragraph:

The rain that came down last night in sheets of shaken foil while thunder trundled over the Bay and crooked spears of lightning splintered trees is rising now up stalks, lengthening leaves that wave their new bright banners tender as petals, seventeen shades of green pushing into sun. The soil feels sweet in my hands as I push little marigolds in. Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry blossoms floating like pieces of moon down to the red tulips beneath the smooth barked tree where a red squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby who eyes him like a plate of lunch.

If she wrote the above, called “May Opens Wide,” it would be labeled a “prose poem, ” a term and form considered ugly ducklings in the swan-like world of poetry. Still, it contains poetic elements—techniques encouraged not only in poetry but in fiction and even essay writing: Active verbs. Specific nouns. Alliteration. Metaphor. Simile. Personification. Imagery. Hungry cats.

Wait. Not that last one, but cats can’t hurt. Consider their power (still inexplicable by rational beings) as pictures on the Internet.

What happens when you take three sentences and mold a poem from them? You could apply rules, though rules are made to be broken. For instance, you might want your lines to be somewhat even and pleasing to the eye. You might want stanzas of the same number of lines (below, as quatrains). And you might want to hold last and first word positions in the lines for more important words, overall.

The result? Something like the poem form below. And if a student writer (or adult writer, for that matter) allergic to poetry achieves poetry one if by prose and two if by prose, too, so be it. In the words of the prophet, “There’s more than one way to skin a poem.”


May Opens Wide
Marge Piercy

The rain that came down last night
in sheets of shaken foil while thunder
trundled over the Bay and crooked
spears of lightning splintered trees

is rising now up stalks, lengthening
leaves that wave their new bright
banners tender as petals, seventeen
shades of green pushing into sun.

The soil feels sweet in my hands
as I push little marigolds in.
Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry
blossoms floating like pieces of moon

down to the red tulips beneath
the smooth barked tree where a red
squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby
who eyes him like a plate of lunch.

Warming Up to Tarjei Vesaas’s Ice Palace

ice palace

On the back of Tarjei Vesaas’s book, The Ice Palace, is a blurb by Nova that reads, “Believable and haunting…this beautiful neo-prose poem is as sombre and Scandinavian as a Bergman film.”

I can’t vouch for the Bergman film bit (I think I’ve seen all of one), but I’m all in on the “haunting” and the “beautiful” and the “sombre” parts. As for “neo-prose poem,” I guess that is because it is a novel, not a prose poem, so the prefix gives Nova poetic license to call it such.

Shall we put it to the prose poem test? Here’s a paragraph describing the ice palace itself–a structure which is a collaboration between winter and a waterfall in Norway–to consider. Put your neo- goggles on and see what you think:

“The sun had suddenly disappeared. There was a ravine with steep sides; the sun would perhaps reach into it later, but now it was in ice-cold shadow. Unn looked down into an enchanted world of small pinnacles, gables, frosted domes, soft curves, and confused tracery. All of it was ice, and the water spurted between, building it up continually. Branches of the waterfall had been diverted and rushed into new channels, creating new forms. Everything shone. The sun had not yet come, but it shone ice-blue and green of itself, and deathly cold. The waterfall plunged into the middle of it as if diving into a black cellar. Up on the edge of the rock the water spread out in stripes, the color changing from black to green, from green to yellow and white, as the fall became wilder. A booming came from the cellar-hole where the water dashed itself into white foam against the stones on the bottom. Huge puffs of mist rose into the air.”

Such description could easily become a found poem of the neo-lyric variety, no? Heck with the 500-piece puzzle. Try your hand at a found poem using the above paragraph as an exercise.

Me? I’m off to work, but look forward to some of your efforts. And no, it won’t be graded. Make your found grade an “A” why don’t you? You’ll see that poetic license melts icy grading systems every time….