This ‘verse’ has occurred spontaneously within the course of writing this essay. Now it did not take so much effort - good poetry is hard work, and does need concerted effort and craft! All that is necessary in the above example is to make sure the lines have end-rhymes. Besides the narrative mode as exemplified above is all part of the characteristics of contemporary ‘anti-poetry.’ Tell a story and add some end-rhymes, some accidence of internal rhymes and you are right there! Why, one wonders, cannot a story be simply told as prose narrative? There is not contesting the fact that there is a form like narrative poetry as for example in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Derek Walcott’s Omeros – to come closer to our own age – or in epic poetry generally. But that form has been bastardised, truncated today and hijacked by the needs of a lazy bourgeoisie audience for constant indiscriminate entertainment. And the easiest manner to entertain that audience is by telling a story – something that might as well be prose but is versified to create a sham poetic effect.
That a prose piece is poetic does not necessarily make it poetry. The term ‘prose poem’ itself is a contradiction, an oxymoron at best and a hyperbole at worst. Strangely though, the fact of that expression, ‘prose poem’, the very fact of its juxtaposition of rather divergent lexical items, epitomising ‘contrariness’ might qualify it as being intrinsic to ‘poetry’ – intrinsic in the self-styled ‘contrary’ imagination of an overzealous avant-garde or the poetaster, who mistakes this for a touching fragmentation of the normal order of verbal and, thus, objective reality; a contrariness that is common, it is true, with poetry- but in a more healthy deployment. ‘Poetry-ness’ would then reside in the pronouncement, the declaration of an intention without the need to really arrive at it – that is the lowest common factor in the contemporary avant-garde’s fascination generally; this romance with mere form. True, there might be exceptions where form is anchored on meaty substance; but that is rare if ever available. Therein resides the ambiguity, ambivalence and double jointed-ness of the term ‘prose poem’ as distinct from ‘poetic prose’. It is a misunderstanding and a misappropriation of the modernist shift in poetry for a closeness to the syntax of everyday speech but, albeit, with a colouring of imagination thrown over such seeming lassitude. This ‘colouring of imagination’ is sometimes achieved through cadence, the sheer music of the poetry or through a combination of cadence and studied imagery and surprising syntactical turns.
“You say I am repeating/Something I have said before. I shall say it again. /Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,/To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,/ You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy…” That is T.S. Eliot in “East Coker”, a section of Four Quartets, in the idiom of everyday speech but the music, engineered through the device of measured repetition, lifts those lines above common ground. Besides, a fuller reading will reveal that the obvious simplicity of those lines carries at its heart a richness that the simple lines belie. Eliot uses the parallelism to good effect, such that subject and theme are related but divergent at the same time. There are two things going on simultaneously. The sub-text carries the deeper import of the poetry, much like water that appears to flow peacefully on the surface but deep down exhibits a burst of life and deeper import. Contemporary poetry mimics that simplicity but looses the deeper structures of meaning and revel in form with no substance.
Certainly there is a place for prose within poetry and vice-versa, as we can see above in the work of T. S. Elliot; or in Derek Walcott or in the prose of Wole Soyinka, or of Ben Okri in The Famished Road. Nevertheless the divide between prose and poetry is a very tenuous one indeed, a no man’s land, and a quicksand where the poetaster will quickly sink in versified prose with a loud desperate cry, “It’s poetry, it’s poetry”! The careful poet manages to negotiate that grey area so well, such that, through a firing of imagination, what would have been mere clay becomes greatly ornamented pottery; such that what is otherwise the merely mundane subject-matter is raised to a rarefied air and deeper levels of significance. Adam Dickinson is a young Canadian poet striving in that direction- at least in terms of the charged imagery if not in the subject matter he handles.
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #41
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...Since 2002 ISSN 1479-425X April 2006
Editor: Amatoristero Ede