13 August 2012

Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge: Challenge #7 --- Prose Poems

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in week seven of this challenge! (And harder still to believe, I might add, that there are only two weeks left of form-based prompts before you start gathering your portfolios.) Yet here we are, teetering on the edge of yet another journey into the realm of poetic form. This week’s journey will take us into one of the most controversial realms of poetry—one that both is and resists poetic traditions, and has often both been defined as and rejected as a poetic form: the prose poem.

The OLJ Poetry Form Challenge #7: Prose Poems

Defining it

I’ve found over time that the prose poem is a form that tends to work against your typical definitions. Why? Because it’s hard to definitively say what, exactly, it is that makes a prose poem both prose and poetry. Russell Edson famously defines the form as a “poetry freed from the definition of poetry, and a prose freed of the necessities of fiction.” If you find yourself stumbling through that definition, you’ll love Charles Simic’s reflection on the form:

Writing a prose poem is a bit like trying to catch a fly in a dark room. The fly probably isn’t even there, the fly is inside your head, still, you keep tripping over and bumping into things in hot pursuit. The prose poem is a burst of language following a collision with a large piece of furniture. (Simic, "The Poetry Village Idiots")

It is as easy (though perhaps wrong) to say that a prose poem is “just a poem without line breaks” as it is to say it is “just prose written poetically” … because what do either of those things mean? Fortunately, what that means is mostly left to you, the poet, to decide (though you may see that as both a blessing and a curse). For our purposes, though, let’s pool a few standard “rules” of the prose poem form to work with:

1. A prose poem is a poem that is written in prose (which basically means a poem without line breaks---I purposely avoid using the term “paragraph of poetry” as some poets do, because it’s something more than a paragraph)
2. It is the job of the poet writing a prose poem to ensure that the poem still maintains a “poetic quality”
3. To maintain that quality, the poet should employ common poetic techniques, such as rhyme, repetition, heightened imagery, fragmentation, etc.
4. A prose poem can be anywhere from a few lines to a full page, and beyond

For both a fine example of a prose poem and further definition of the form, check out Campbell McGrath’s “The Prose Poem

Doing it

Write a prose poem of your own. Start by writing just a few poetic sentences. There is actually a form, called the monostich, that is defined as a one-line poem; start by trying to write some of those. There is another, invented by Allen Ginsberg, the American sentence, which is a variation of the haiku: a one sentence, 17 syllable poem. Try some of those, too. Then, expand by … well, writing more. Your goal is simply to write a poem in prose, maintaining a poetic voice despite defining the more “traditional” (lined) poetic form.

Fun it up!

For your chance to be this week’s featured poet, remember to share and submit your poem(s) by 10pm EDT on Thursday (8-16). You can submit via the comment box below, in an email (ourlostjungle@kharahouse.com), or by sharing a link to your own blog in the comment box or in an email. Remember, you can post as many attempts as you’d like. Be sure to show some love to the other folks who are sharing there poems, whether here or via links to their own pages---and engage this oft debated poetic topic of whether or not a poem can be both poetry and prose, and what “x” marks the spot at which prose becomes poetry and poetry becomes prose to create this unique form.

Good luck!


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Catch up with the Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge:

26 comments:

  1. Like naked workings stripped of their fountains, two aerators perform their functional ballet for the park lake. Water opens in the air; air and light infuse the water; prisms, falling, come and go through time. Round with hills and flat with puddles, ponds, and her one small lake, the old city park dozes by the river. Before the war to end wars, wooden swan boats, white, tapped their oars to brass bandstand concerts, and shirtwaist women strolled the folly's artificial ruins; now, today, fourteen tall Canada geese wade through coarse sprays of marsh grass beyond the lake's shallow tip. Long necks crook earthward like handles of aladdin lamps until a sudden sound transforms embellishments to black-masked heads, erect among the ripening panicles, startled lilies.

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    1. Gosh, Barbara, that is so gorgeous! I was just captured by your words.

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    2. Thanks. It was one of those flash moments. There and gone. I probably over-wrote it, but couldn't help myself.

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    3. love your aerating ballet. great description! i can see it all. sounds like my kind of view!

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    4. Marvelous, Barbara. The history flashed in this one gives it a sense of eeriness that sets the tone for me. It harkens to another time, another sensibility, which really resonates with me as I read it.

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    5. Yes, Barbara. Nice touch of history to lend the whole piece an aura and tone from another time. Fine imagery everywhere, "Long necks crook earthward like handles of aladdin lamps..." is one example of many. Thank you for this.

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  2. Here's mine!

    Grandpa and The Coal Heap

    I'm off on hols for two weeks starting tomorrow night, so I'll catch up with you all when I return.

    ~Misky

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    1. Really liked the letter format. A good example of what I like to think of as heirloom prose poetry. I must admit that I am biased in favor of these.

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  3. "Moments"

    The good ones; hold on to them! Focus. Take a moment. No. Take more than a moment. Stop everything and look_ now_ into their eyes!

    Breathe. Take the time. Let them know they are more important than what you need to do. Whatever it is, will keep. Turn the stove off. Cook it later. The kid needs help with his coloring book. Hard to hold onto those precious moments? Life getting in your way?

    But listen; you must focus on them, now! Before they are gone! And they will be gone. And you will later regret the moments you lost...I promise!

    Our lives are so much like the old, 8 mm home movie; the one I am watching on VHS and considering the effort to convert to DVD. Notorious for over/under exposure, shaky-hand pictures, these old recordings are not perfect but precious to us! Terrible and boring to most of our friends, they are my family jewels of moments fifty years ago!

    There! on my wedding day!

    There! the first baby who always gets photographed more than the others...

    There! the camera wickedly used for scanning trees and fast moving cars, backs of heads or nose-to-chin-faces only! Meaningless clouds and fast moving mountains...

    Or, how about the "full-moon-racing-with-the-palm-trees" slick scene photographed one evening as we drove along when one could have easily focused on Him! How I would love to have that picture back! But how could I so ignore the most important moments in my life that will never come again?

    You must hug your moments, now! They will not keep forever, for even now, the movie film is fast fading and deteriorating. Our camera choices were poor. There we are at the Monkey Jungle. One second; no, two seconds spent on the children’s under-exposed faces and ten minutes of fascination for a monkey who can ride a bicycle! I may edit out the monkey; but how may I go back and add-in the children?

    I would know, now, what to add; what to edit. The strange swings of the camera _ up,down, this side; that side_ in a dizzying swirl of one who had some furtive objective to capture everything? There goes Grandma! Two seconds of her smiling, lovely face and ten minutes focused on a boring mountain stream!

    No, we are as imperfect as our old movies and being human do not always aim the camera in the right direction. But we can choose to focus and stay where the real, true moments of our lives are ...There! on the face of the loved one, before it slips away...forever.

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    1. can really feel this - like your comparison of the movies and camera focus. hug your moments. great.

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    2. Really nice, Jacqueline. Pace kept reader moving rapidly wondering what else was in store. Enjoyed this album--for that is how I think of it--very much.

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  4. Decided to try another. This is a bit surreal.
    http://wp.me/sdTja-traveler

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  5. My attempt:

    On a cool jeweled moon; she lay. Soft hair commiserating with the cold surface of the chalky, tasteless dust. Losna braided her long silver hair. In the distance the ocean rumbled; gurgling with the movement of her hands. She lay, eyes closed, trembling and in tears. Losna had taught her of love; of hatred. But never had she felt such steel wedged in between her collarbone and her sternum. Cried; and cried. For the one. Sobbed and ached. For the one who caused her pain. Losna finished the braid and smiled. The ocean consumed the Earth. Ridding it of every last human breath.

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    1. Nice use of mythology, Sopphey. Really enjoyed this weaving of sensory threads and mental impressions.

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  6. Here's my link. http://mapoetpoems.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-prose-poem-made-from-stone.html

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  7. “The Lesson”
    It started in my neck because I am the teacher. She is the willing student wearing flip flops to learn a necessary skill I learned when I was sixteen. But, here she is past voting age, past drinking age—her dead car at the end of the driveway and she is in need of wheels. I am the passenger in my own car with electric sparkles sizzling behind my eyeballs. Somewhere there is a hot dude in faded jeans who would love to be sitting right where I am sitting, showing her what I am showing her. He wouldn’t get a headache when she pops the clutch for the twentieth time in an empty parking lot. He wouldn’t be yelling break, clutch, gas. He would be laughing at her cute smile and playing with her cute knees and twirling her cute hair. My clenched jaw is not cute. I’m sure there is a hazy law in an archaic law book that sets age restrictions on teaching a driver how to drive a stick. It’s a health issue. I've learned my lesson. Now, pass me another Advil.

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    1. Oh, this is just too funny. Love it.

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    2. My mother taught me to drive a stick. I always wondered why she had back problems. This may explain it.

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  8. Here is my attempt, Khara. I almost missed this and the deadline.

    My Nirvana


    The perfect spot to rest and reflect squatted a dozen yards ahead; the brook widened, wrapped around it like a snake eating its own tail, leaving a tiny island isolated from the world. A fold of hazelnut root, sheltered and shaded by dreamy green of Lady's Slippers and Solomon's Seal drew my attention as congregations of May-apples gossiped in the breeze. Their saucy white-blossomed petticoats flirted with me, while the sickly sweet scent of those petticoats rode the breeze to mingle with the distinctive smells of wild herbs. Other greens added their odors to blend with that of loamy soil to form a unique perfume around my tiny secret island.

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  9. Couldn't stop at just one.

    Life Journey

    My poor young self listened to the words string themselves into commentary, wrapping around daydream like so much cotton candy on a stick. When I found the desert with its solitude and saguaro sentries, I drank in its nights while sitting under a blanket of the galaxy’s brightest stars. Air tasted of cactus flowers and dust, and coyotes howled for the sake of hearing their own chorus. Skunks did their nightly rounds, looking to pilfer whatever delicacies were left unattended. Words came. Not in a flood, but rather with the smoothness of a desert creek; shy, hiding from onlookers until sunlight couldn’t be avoided, when it burst forth to glitter and pulsate with personal meaning. That piece of me that always waited for the right time emerged, and the quiet inner voice remained to tell its stories. A real audience sat in the theater as I focused on that murmur and listened; awareness hummed within me.

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    1. Both were great reads. I like the flow and concept of the second a lot. After reading I imagined an image of an armadillo searching to shed her shell. "... its solitude and saguaro sentries..." is vivid and lots of nice turns of phrase throughout. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Below is one of my offerings. The other one is on my blog here.
    The one below is altered from a note I left my son. Letters were the original literature.
    The one on my blog is about grief and is a bit longer but not too long you couldn’t read it in a couple minutes.
    So far the entries this week are spectacular. I’m glad I’m not Khara having to decide.


    Picking up my son’s toys

    Son, in this droid I found a message:
    “The rebel base was attacked with an advanced weapon, a kind of odorous blue cloud that coated every wall and even splattered the launch pod, (sorry). All aircraft and personnel were captured by the empire and taken to your sister planet in the Bedroom Galaxy. Princess Lela is being held hostage at Wal-Mart. A cheap ransom is required for her release. Help us Obi-Wan Kenobi. Come quickly.”
    Val, tell me what this means?
    Dad.

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    1. I don't blame Princess Lela for trying to escape the mess and end up back at Walmart. Fun read!

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  11. That's funny, Kris. Odd thing is, I can imagine this happening and the puzzlement involved. Some great lines there.

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  12. Claudsy, thanks for the post -- you inspired me.

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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