Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making blogs with remarks

The new-ish Magma website includes a piece discussing what prose poems are by Hannah Salt (thanks to Matt Merritt for the link.) Dunno, of course, is the safest answer. But I want to pick up on one point that Salt makes:

prose poems need to be short; if they run to any length, they risk becoming a short story or an essay.

Intuitively I'd go along with this, but that doesn't mean I don't think longer prose pieces belong in a book of poems. The most famous example is probably Robert Lowell's '91 Revere Street', a longish prose memoir that is an essential element of Life Studies. I wonder if the notion of a prose-poem is getting in the way here - we rather assume that a prose-poem should be a page or less and quirky, atmospheric and non-narrative in function. But as Robert Sheppard points out in his essay of Roy Fisher's prose (in The Thing About Roy Fisher), the idea of using prose to create a poem actually involves breaking generic conventions. He quotes Stephen Fredman:

To write in prose grants a poets 'the freedom to construct a poetic entity capable of including what poetry has been told to exclude'.

Clearly the genre of the prose-poem reins in that freedom. It appears that the possibilities of what a poem can do in and with prose is not exhausted by the genre, making any attempt to define that genre a little beside the point. To get an idea of what a poet can do with prose I can do no better than direct you to read the whole of Sheppard's essay, which explores Fisher's use of prose in entertaining and stimulating technical detail. It touches on things like syntax and lineation, tone and register, and considers how Fisher replaces the line as the unit of poetry with other units like remarks and Wittgensteinian propositions.It's all very interested to me at present because I'm mulling over a long-ish piece of work which may well end up being in prose, and may well end up being poetry, if it ends up being anything at all.


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