First published on www.downrightfiction .com © Trevor Maynard 2012
My prose is poetry; my poetry is prose, whether twain shall meet, who could say? (Or knows)
The earth is flat, death by disembowelment, and smoking is good for your health, were all once considered perfectly good truths, but now the consensus is that they are not. Poetry must look and sound like poetry is perhaps another. However, if poems are not and do not; are they poetry or prose? Consider these;
“Into your blue skylight eyes I trap shards of broken words within parti-coloured wine. Inimitable style flows from curving lips. Keep your flowing hair close-cropped. Crows and starlings desire the locks of your beauty to weld tight their nests.”(1)
“Crawling through an ever tightening concrete tunnel, always knew I’d marry a Jo. Spent my kid years in the market, Dad the Toby, then as a tortured teenager musing on a dead fly instead of Ohm’s Law; Mum the Dinner Lady.“(2)
“A bag which was left and not only taken but turned away was not found. The place was shown to be very like the last time. A piece was not exchanged, not a bit of it, a piece was left over. The rest was mismanaged.”(3)
Are these stanzas or paragraphs? Is the use of paragraphs in a novel the same as the use of stanzas in an epic poem? Maybe this kind of poetry is not only like playing tennis with the net down, as Robert Frost said, but playing without a net, or a court, and freed from the concept of what the rules of tennis might be.
The examples could be called poetic micro-stories, post-modernist short fiction, vignettes, or maybe in modern terminology flash fiction, but are they poetry? Is poetry simply prose with tricks; an affectation of rhyme, meter, word-play, typography, and line-breaks? Is poetry simply a matter of formatting? Maybe this is really such a complicated question on form and content, or the psychology of words that it will take an aesthete, an academic, or an ars poeticist to sort out; probably in a kitchen at a party at three in the morning.
Back in the Real World; is Real Poetry only poetry because its consumers will not buy their literary magazines, read their e-zines, or enters their competitions unless they have a clear and common idea of what a poem looks like? Then there is the Tea Leaf Theory of Poetry; string any collection of words together and statistically you’re likely to find a cluster of similar sounds with a pattern (like tea leaves in a cup), and therefore you have a poem. Which all begs the question if you can format a poem as prose, can you format prose as poetry?
UN Resolution 662 (1991)
The Security Council
Of Kuwait by Iraq
Has no legal validity
And agencies not
That Iraq rescind
The piece above gained a poetic quality because it was performed in my play ‘From Pillow to Post’ by a Greek chorus. It could be said there is ‘another country’ to explore between prose and poetry which is both creative and rewarding, and the resolution of the prose/poetry dichotomy lies in the context and the intention.
(1) Excerpt from IT IS A FINE IRISH SPRING* by Durand J Compton © 1993 (reprinted in the anthology THE POETIC BOND, 2011)
*Originally from SKETCHES (preface to a Jazz Painting) © 1993
(2) Excerpt from BIRTH DREAM AND DEATH by Trevor Maynard © 2011
(3) From A FRIGHTFUL RELEASE by Gertrude Stein © 1914