Saturday, July 11, 2020

Call for Pandemic Poems




Frost Meadow Review published one of my pandemic poems yesterday, and I thought I'd share it with you, along with Frost Meadow's call for related manuscripts.

Frost Meadow is encouraging poets to write about their experiences during this challenging time and to submit them for possible publication in a special online supplement of "Pandemic Poetry." There is no submission fee, and all poems may be read free of charge online. 

According to Frost Meadow Review, "We believe that poetry matters and that we are more together."

Poets are asked to read the submission guidelines before sending work.


"Poets may submit up to one poem a day for this project in word or PDF format with the email subject line “Pandemic Poem.” Poems must be original and unpublished. Multiple submissions are fine but please tell us if it is a multiple submission and inform us immediately if the poem is accepted by another publication. Please include a brief bio including your general location. For the foreseeable future, we will publish at least one poem a week from these submissions on our pandemic poetry page on our website. There is no submission fee and the poems will be free to read online. We believe that poetry matters and that we are more together. This is our way of helping us all stay connected and growing together during this challenging time."

 ______________________________________
So ... if you're a poet and have written any poems related to the Covid-19 pandemic, you might want to consider sending some to Frost Meadow Review for the editors' consideration. Be sure to follow the guidelines.  There's nothing to lose, and it's wonderful to be part of this special poetry/community sharing.

______________________________________

July 10, 2020

All Manner of Thing 
By Adele Kenny


1.

This morning I woke to a wren outside my window,
its clear trill vibrant in the day’s first air, and I thought
about words, how we’ve learned to speak the language
of Covid—pandemic, quarantine, PPE—and how we
live by the new routines that go with such words—
the world on hold, everyone six feet apart.

2.

Socially distant, I stand on the deck out back and
toss peanuts to the chipmunks and squirrels. My dog
is beside me. He’s intuitive, this one, as if he knows
what I’m thinking and thinks it with me. Cardinals
come, sparrows and doves—all with bright wings
to lift them—and the red-bellied woodpecker that
drills its own version of words into the maple.

3.

Restrictions have begun to loosen (some worry that
it’s too much too soon, and no getting away from this
tight knot of knowing, the fear that rattles inside it). I
have to tell myself that hope can be real. On the street
behind mine, a man sings Don McLean’s “American Pie”
behind his mask. The sound carries. Believe, believe,
I tell myself and, like a stuck song, I quote Julian of
Norwich over and over: All shall be well, and all
shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.








Saturday, June 27, 2020

Pedestal Magazine Review of Wind Over Stones


The Pedestal Magazine's most recent issue (#86, June 2020) includes a review by Vivian Wagner of my newest book, Wind Over Stones. I'm really delighted and so grateful to Ms. Wagner and to the Pedestal's founder and managing editor John Amen.

As many of us with recently published books know, the Covid-19 crisis has made readings, book launches, workshops, etc. impossible, and books sales aren't what we hoped they might be; so, in lieu of any of the usual new book events, this review functions as a kind of book launch for me. 

A few excerpts follow, along with the link in case you'd like to read the whole review. 
There are also links for ordering the book online.



Click here to order Wind Over Stones from Barnes & Noble.

Big thanks to you if you order a copy of the book!


Pedestal Magazine Review by Vivian Wagner, Excerpts:

Wind Over Stones is a remarkable collection of ekphrastic prose poems by Adele Kenny exploring mortality, loss, and joy. At the bottom of each poem’s page there’s a QR code leading to the artwork that inspired the poem, and this design proves a creative method of weaving together the written word and visual imagery, keeping the reader actively engaged in the process of exploring the art in the context of the poems.”

“As with the best ekphrastic poetry, the poems don’t simply describe the art that inspired them; rather, they use it as a jumping-off point, a place from which to make sense of one’s life.”

“The QR codes, as little black-and-white portals on the bottom of each page, are a kind of art themselves. They speak of secrecy and translation, and of the way in which there’s never a one-to-one correspondence between a work of art and our responses to it.”

All of the poems in Wind Over Stones explore, on some level, how we come to terms with mortality and still manage to create fulfilling and happy lives. The poems, in their interactions with the complementary paintings, examine and describe the way life is a not a fixed or predictable story, but rather a near-infinite series of moments simultaneously informed by both grief and joy.”





Saturday, June 20, 2020

Prompt #355 – Painting to Poem

 1. Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich

2. The Sun by Edvard Munch

3. Mountain Landscape with Bridge by Thomas Gainsborough


These days, with the pandemic still present and a threat throughout the world, with so many related worries and concerns, and with all the other issues that affect our daily lives, it can be good to step outside of our "personal spaces" and enter the art world. I’ve selected three paintings (above) that I hope you’ll find inspirational. I worked with these paintings myself in my most recent book. 

Our goal for this prompt is to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of the paintings above. If none of these painting works for you, feel free to choose any other.

Importantly, Ekphrastic poetry is more than mere textual description or verbal interpretation of visual art. Making an object (painting or other work of art) lively before the reader’s eye involves, in the best Ekphrastic poems, an emotional and perhaps even spiritual response to the work of art— achieved through written language.

Guidelines:

1. Look at the paintings and choose one that especially appeals to you.

2. Notice details within the painting you’ve chosen.

3. Then, jot down 10 or 12 things that in the painting that capture your attention (and, hopefully, your imagination).

4. Think about how your items relate to one another, how they work together to form a unified whole.

5. Jot down some notes about what you “see”—this will become your “sensory pool.”

6. Free write for a while and begin thinking in terms of a poem.

7. Then, begin writing a poem that’s based on, about, or that includes some of the items you noted. Look for connections among those "things" and yourself. How and why do they "speak" to you? What story might they tell?

8. Let your painting become the “emotion,” the “landscape,” or the topic of your poem. Write in the present tense—here and now. Let your ten-twelve items direct the content of your poem. Describe them, define them, contextualize them, analyze them, repurpose them, recreate them. Let your poem take you where it wants to go.

Tips:

1. You can approach your ekphrastic poem in several ways and, as the poet, it's your choice. You may write about your experience viewing the art, about an experience the artwork draws from your memory or a monologue or story you imagine coming from a voice inside the painting. The choice is up to you, and what notes you jotted in your sensory pool will help you pick.

2. Pay close attention to sight, suggested sound, color, light, feeling, movement and other aspects of the painting you chose. Try to disregard your analytical mind or any historical knowledge, and instead experience the artwork through your senses. A poet doesn't need to "know" facts about a piece of art. Instead, the poet experiences the artwork: memories, sensations of smell or touch, impressions of the images you see inside the art. These will help to inform your poem once you've decided on your approach.

3. You may want to create a dialog in which you journey in “conversation” between the painting and your text.

4. Be sure to acknowledge the artwork somewhere in your poem (I like to do this at the beginning of the poem, just under the title).

5.  Don’t just describe the artwork you’ve chosen; let the artwork be your guide and see where it leads you.  Relate the artwork to something else (a memory, a person, an experience, a place, an emotion).

6. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story in a narrative poem, be sure not to overtell.

7. Think about including some caesuras (pauses) for emphasis, and leave some things unsaid—give your readers space to fill in some blanks.

8. Pose an unanswered question or go for an element of surprise. Let your poem take an interesting or unexpected turn based on something triggered by the painting.

9. Look at the “movement” of the painting you’ve chosen and try to represent that movement in your line and stanza breaks. For example, if a painting “moves” across the canvas, find a way to suggest similar movement in the way you indent and create line breaks.

10. Most importantly, let the painting you chose inspire you.

Examples:

All Examples are from Wind Over Stones, Welcome Rain Publishers, LLC, 
Copyright © 2019 by Adele Kenny. All rights reserved.
  

 
This Almost Night

(After Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich)


It’s the way trees darken before the sky … this almost night … another side of time and new. We think in pauses and, in those pauses, everything (it seems) stands still.

The moon, rising, reorders the sky, drifts and slips through clouds—sliver of moon, its nimbus pale, like a word almost spoken.

A night bird lifts its shadow away from the world, a world flown white with the ghosts of our passing (thoughts vaguely remembered)—the sky dimmed to November gray, and us moonstruck—what we thought we knew, fistfuls of winter we didn’t see coming, this sack of rocks slung over memory’s shoulder.


This Particular Light

(After The Sun by Edvard Munch)


Weavers of the same place—beyond the body’s dark containment, we entered the forest by our own choosing. Above us, galaxies pitched and sieved through air—another degree of second thought. Having used up all the words we knew for loneliness (and not sure what we found or what to call it), we considered options (as if happiness might be a choice). Finally, we returned to the larks’ twill, the blue jays’ liquid clicks—this life that is not about what things are but what they mean (all gift, and so much more than blood in the heart).

Do you remember the fox at twilight, the edge of the woods like a mirror in rain? Face it, there’s only (ever) one whole note—the minor third, the perfect fifth—gratefully, we turn from the dark’s protective depth into the brimmed burning of this particular light.


Once, Late in the Day:
                       East Canada Creek, Stratford, NY

(After Mountain Landscape with Bridge by Thomas Gainsborough)


I’ve come to see the sun flick over stones in moments of gentle flashing, to think how fast a memory becomes its own illusion. I’m here because what we call the soul—that almost visual echo—is always close to holiness.

A birch on the shoreline shapes itself to the breeze; aspens tremble as if this moment were all there is between one beauty and another, between mystery and revelation. Here, there is no revision, no opposite for recollection.

Once, late in the day, my father and I fished beneath this bridge. I was seven or eight, and small trout shone underwater, quietly golden. On the only road home, we were part of the shadows’ perfection (trees and what was left of the sky). As we walked between hills (close in the last light), my pail of water filled with stars, and the sun came down, fallen from a larger light that, far too soon, my father walked into and was gone.





Saturday, June 6, 2020

Prompt #354 – Hiareth



Have you ever had the experience of hearing a new and unusual word for the first time and vowing to remember it? I remember the first time I heard the word gobsmacked. My former professor and long-time mentor and friend, Charles DeFanti, introduced me to that word, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve used it since (i.e., I was gobsmacked when I read Eliot’s “Little Gidding” for the first time).

I recently came across the word hiraeth, a Welsh word with no exact translation into English, which generally means “homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” Words typically used to try to explain it are homesickness, yearning, and longing. However, there is greater depth and suggested meaning to hiraeth than in any of those words on their own.

Just the sound of the word resonated for me and, then, when I looked it up, I couldn’t help but relate it to pre- and post-pandemic life—how much things have changed, and how much most of us long to have our lives back—our yearning and homesickness for life as it was. With so much uncertainty about when or if that will happen, I thought it might be interesting to use the word hiraeth as a kind of jumping off word for a poem about how life has changed since Covid-19, how we feel about what’s happened, and whether or not we think things will ever be the same as they were before Covid.

Can a poem begin with a single word even if that word doesn’t appear in the poem? 
It's may seem a little strange at first but, of course, it can!

There are many poems being written right now about Covid-19 and its collision with personal and global life. Many of the poems are insightful and profoundly meaningful. I recommend reading several before you begin writing, and here’s a place where you’ll find some:


 
Some Things to Think about before Writing:

  • What was your life like before Covid-19 (personal, national, or global)?
  • How has the virus affected your family life, friendships, work life, and social life?
  • What do you miss most about life before Covid? What are you “homesick” for?
  • When was the last time you hugged someone who isn’t a member of your immediate family?
  • When was the last time you shook a stranger’s hand?
  • When was the last time you attended a religious service in a filled house of worship? Attended a wedding or a funeral where there were no restrictions? 
  • How does it feel not to be able to go to a restaurant with family members or friends and sit down together (inside the restaurant) to enjoy a meal together?
  • How does social distancing change the dynamic of being part of any group?
  • What’s it like for you to wear a mask when grocery shopping, going to a doctor, or walking in a park?
  • How long do you think this will all go on?
  • What things do you fear may never change back to what they were before Covid? Do you think there are some irrevocable changes?

Guidelines:

1. Keep the word hiareth in mind (not the word itself but what the word suggests to you), then relate its meaning to what you feel about the pandemic and its personal impact on your life.

2. You might want to start by making a list of the ways in which the pandemic has changed your life.

3. Remember: you don’t have to use the word hiareth in your poem—that’s not required—but try to evoke the word’s feeling in images.

4. Write about family changes, work changes, travel changes, social changes.

5. Write about fear—your personal fears and how fear has impacted your life.

6. Write about friends or co-workers who have contracted the virus.

7. Write about those who have not survived.

8. This is a personal poem, so don’t be afraid to show how the virus has directly affected your life.

9. Importantly, think in terms of the nostalgia for things of your pre-Covid life—what do you long for, what real or metaphorical "homesickness" are you experiencing? 

10. Whatever you write, don't be afraid to interject a note of hope.

Tips:

1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. Think about surface and underlying meanings.

7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

8. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.

9. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.

10. Bring your poem to closure with a memorable dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line.)


NOTE: Think about making your poem unusual, edgy, different in some way. Try a prose poem, dip into the surreal, be satirical, try a haibun or a haiku sequence, perhaps a limerick.

Whatever you write, and whatever form you choose,
go for Ezra Pound’s classic dictum,” Make it new!”


Examples:
 
On Breathing
By Alicia Jo Rabins

I’m OK during the day, but at night I get scared,
Which makes it hard to breathe, which is a symptom
Of the pandemic, which is what scares me.
Well played, anxiety, my old friend. You’ve always
Warned me something like this might happen.
You’re a gift from my ancestors who survived plagues,
And worse. They wove you into my DNA to warn me,
So that I too might survive. Now that it’s happening,
Anxiety, I don’t need you any more. I need
The ones who gave you to me. So hear me, ancestors
Who lived though danger times: I’m ready for you now.
All these years I’ve carried your worries in my bones.
Now I need your love, your thousand-year view.
Tell me it’s going to be OK, remind me you made it
Through and we will too. Teach me to breathe. 


Reprinted by permission of the author.)



Coronavirus, One Month Later
     By Nancy Lubarsky
    
Outside, streets are vacant
except for delivery trucks
and half-mast flags. There

are fewer places where I can
walk. As the parks empty, my
head is crowded with lost

people­—artists, legends, and
ordinary folk who spent their
lives making ends meet or

keeping us safe. There is less
music now, less poetry, fewer
pictures. I mourn for the people

I don’t know of, and the ones
I do—my colleague’s 90 year
old mother, our synagogue’s

past president, a friend’s
musician pal. As I learn about
their lives, I try to make them

comfortable in my mind’s
multiple rooms. My hope is
they’ll be there a long time.


(First Published in Frost Meadow Review)

_________________________

Two-Day Diary     
     By Penny Harter

mid-morning heat—
humidity already
a mask

late afternoon
a heavy rain cleanses
the dense air

steam rises
from hot pavement—
sirens somewhere

sudden thunder—
distant rumbles echo
in its wake

just a minor
accident—spilling beans
from a torn bag

supper again—
knife, fork, plate
and TV

bedtime—memories
of childhood flicker at
the edge of sleep

midnight waking—
try to reenter my
lingering dream

eyes closed—
another landscape opens
inside me

clearing night—
even through the roof
starlight

hazy morning—
stirring daily collagen
into my tea 



(Copyright © 2020 by Penny Harter)

_________________________

Sheltered in Place
     By Adele Kenny

Working from home—
anthills appear
on the driveway.

     I spray the mail with Lysol,
     then wash my hands 
     again.

Sheltered in place,
I lose track 
of the date.

     Below my window,
     a man on the street 
     sings behind his mask.

Memories of childhood—
wishing for last year 
or any year before.

     Peonies begin to bloom—
     I long for the way
     things were.


(Copyright © 2020 by Adele Kenny)


_________________________


Stay safe and be well, dear friends!













Saturday, May 23, 2020

Prompt #353 – Surface and Deeper Meanings




A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer...
He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it.
A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.

E. B. White, from One Man's Meat.


The above quote is one that has always intrigued me. The idea that poetry should contain some element of “challenge” is part of what great poems are about. The gist of it is that poems should function on more than one level—the level of obvious meaning (the literal, surface layer) and then a layer (or layers) of deeper meaning.

Deeper meanings that lie below surface meanings are usually evoked through language that creates connotations. To discover a poem’s deeper levels of meaning, it is necessary to reflect upon and to interpret the poem’s language.

To discover meanings in a poem, consider the following general tips:

Because poetry is condensed language, the title is often a significant clue to the overall meaning.

The basic component of poetry is imagery. Think about all the images in a poem and possible meanings to which they may point.

Look at figures of speech, symbolisms, and other literary devices in a poem. How are they used to convey meaning? What meanings do they suggest?

What does the ending tell you? How a poem comes to closure (or “dismounts”) can give you clues to deeper meanings.

Remember—not every poem “says” what it appears to “speak.”

Suggestions:

1. For starters, decide what you want to write about. Is there a particular theme you have in mind? A free write to get you going might help you to establish your theme (main idea).

2. For example, your theme might be loss. You might have a specific loss in mind, perhaps the death of a parent, spouse, partner, or friend. Your obvious meaning is the particular loss. Deeper levels of meaning might be about what you learned from this loss.

3. Try to write this deeper meaning in a single sentence. You sentence might be something like, “Some losses never go away; the intense sense of loss may change over time, but there is always something of it left.” This one sentence may be helpful to you in focusing on the deeper meaning of your theme once you start writing. (The sentence isn’t going to be part of your poem—it’s just to help you get into your poem.)

4. Decide upon the point of view you’d like to take in your poem. Point of view is like a lens through which the poem is seen. You may opt for the first person (I, me) or the third person (he, she, him, her). Writing in the third person is sometimes a more comfortable place from which to work. It’s a little like creating and alter ego for yourself and can give you room to “stand back” and define and clarify the situation.

5. Now, introduce your theme by relating the “story” of a loss. Be sure to work toward a strong emotional center. You can do that through images and technical devices (for example, simile, metaphor, metonymy, repetition, internal rhymes, alliteration, and assonance). Experiment with the devices that work best for you and for your poem.

6. It’s important to convey feeling through images—that is, to show and not tell. As the quote above states, be just so clear and no clearer. In other words, don't tell too much. Trust your readers to discover meanings on their own.  Avoid words that “tell” what an emotion is. Work instead through examples. Often, symbolic (not actual) imagery will give dimension to a poem. In the case of the loss example mentioned earlier, you may use something (road, highway, trajectory of stars) to symbolize the length of time it takes for the intense feeling of loss to subside.

7. As you move away from the literal introduction of your “story,” remember your underlying or deeper meaning. Don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to convey. Using our loss example, your poem will begin with the “story” of a particular loss but must move forward to include your deeper meaning (that some losses never go away completely).

8. When you have a good draft completed, read it carefully, line by line. Ask yourself what details the poem can live without. Have you “told” too much? Have you been (to use E. B. White's term) "a trifle glaring?" Make sure the images and symbolisms you’ve used enhance your meanings. If they detract from your meanings, change or delete them.

9. Finally, let your poem rest for a few days and then come back to it. Read it aloud to yourself. Have you succeeded in conveying the meanings you wanted to express? Now is the time to continue refining and editing. Remember that a poem may go through many drafts before it’s finished.



Example 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost


Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.


Acknowledgment: Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.


On the surface, this is a poem about a man or a woman who travels home on a snowy evening and stops for few moments by a wooded area. On the surface, this poem is very simple. The speaker stops by some woods on a snowy evening. He or she quietly contemplates the peaceful scene and is tempted to stay longer; however, he or she acknowledges the pull of tasks not yet completed and the large distance still to be traveled before he or she can rest for the night. Ah ... but is that the only meaning? Deeper meanings lie in the lines,

    But I have promises to keep,   
    And miles to go before I sleep,   
    And miles to go before I sleep.

The underlying theme is perhaps that one must concentrate on fulfilling promises and accomplishing duties without being distracted by the pleasures of life and/or the natural world (however pure and simple those pleasures may be). The poem, then, become about commitments and obligations.

Another underlying theme might be that we all have to make choices. The speaker in this poem must choose between staying in the woods and enjoying nature’s peacefulness or returning to his or her duties and obligations.

In addition, it has been suggested that Frost uses the symbolism of miles to suggest that the speaker has to achieve many things and fulfill many responsibilities before he or she enters into eternal sleep (we're talking death here). In other words, before leaving this world, he or she has work and perhaps even relationships (promises to keep) that cannot be abandoned. His or her journey is far from over.

Another interpretation suggests that the speaker in the poem contemplates suicide—the deep, dark woods, perhaps symbolizing death, were inviting and even compelling to him or to her. The speaker, however, recognizes his or her duty and purpose in staying alive.

As you can see, each reader brings his or her personal interpretation to the poem. Frost “unzipped the veil from beauty,” but he didn’t remove it and left it to us, the readers, to enter the poem and to determine for ourselves what the poem’s deeper meanings might be.

Now it’s your turn to write something with both a surface meaning and one or more deeper meanings! 






Saturday, May 16, 2020

Prompt #352 – Writing Prose Poems



Although we’ve explored the subject of prose poems in the past, I thought this might be a good time to revisit the subject as we struggle with a “new normal” (that isn’t limited to any specific geography and applies to all of us). I’ll begin with a reprint of an article I wrote for the most recent issue of Tiferet Journal (Spring/summer 2020). 

For this prompt, imagine that you’re not writing prose, and you’re not writing poetry. You’re writing neither and both at the same time! It's a little like two wings that work together to make a prose poem "fly." So ... relax, let the words flow, and go wherever your prose poem leads you. (If the spirit moves you to write about the current Covid situation then, by all means, "fly" with it.) Once you’ve edited and refined your work, you might even find an online journal, print journal, or anthology for your poem.

______________________________________________________

Prose Poems: One Foot in Prose, the Other in Poetry
By Adele Kenny

Reprinted by Permission from Tiferet Spring/Summer 2020.
Copyright © 2020 by Tiferet Press. All rights reserved.

In recent years, prose poems have appeared more and more often in mainstream journals, anthologies, and books. There is justifiable fascination with a form that challenges readers with a name that seems contradictory if not downright oxymoronic. How can a piece of writing be both poetry and prose at the same time?

In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.” A fusion of poetry and prose, the prose poem commits completely to neither.

While prose poems are not defined by the line breaks (lineation) typically associated with poetry, they maintain a poetic quality and necessarily use techniques common to verse. A standard prose poem is one that resembles prose in structure (paragraph form), but moves away from customary prose techniques in favor of poetry-like imagery and/or emotional effect. Prose poems may vary in length from a single paragraph to more than a page. Their lines break with the margins and, significantly, their margins are justified (left and right whenever possible). Thus, they appear in blocks of language (or as “language in a box”).  

The prose poem’s allegiance to poetry is unmistakable in sonic impression, compression, internal rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and figures of speech. Although prose poems appear as paragraphs, they lack the narrative structure of prose. Characterized by complete sentences and deliberate fragments, they are often driven by metaphor and imagery, and they sometimes speak the dialect of dreams. Prose poems generally include unexpected juxtapositions and startling twists of language. Based in reality, they often give a nod to the surreal.

Importantly, prose poems should make sense despite the fact that they are often presented through highly poetic language and almost always stretch the boundaries of poetry and prose. A confusing mishmash of words, however, is not a prose poem (at least not what might be termed a good one). By the same token, a prose poem is much more than a narrative story told in a generic way; there is always a strong element of surprise in the language, always something unpredictable. Too often, inexperienced poets assume that a prose poem simply tells a story, and many amateur prose poems read like diary entries or travel journals. Often confused with flash fiction and mini-memoirs, they are distinctively neither.

Historically, the prose poem is not a new concept. There are, arguably, prose poems contained in such ancient texts as the Bible, but prose poetry is most recently related to the haibun, a Japanese literary genre that became popular during the 17thcentury. In most haibun, short poetic prose passages (paragraphs) are followed by haiku. Haibun are not exactly prose poem prototypes, but there is a relationship in the blending of prose and poetry, as well as a similar affective sensibility.

Western prose poetry emerged in the early 19th century as a rebellion against traditional poetic structures. Symbolist poet Louis-Jacques-Napoléon “Aloysius” Bertrand is credited with introducing prose poetry into French literature in 1842 with Gaspard de la Nuit. In 1869, Charles Baudelaire published Petits Poèmes en Prose (Little Poems in Prose) and gave prose poetry its name. The form was firmly established in France by Arthur Rimbaud (Illuminations, 1886) and Stéphane Mallarmé (Divagations, 1897).

Throughout the 19th century, poets continued to experiment with prose poems, which remained popular into the 20th century and enjoyed a mid-century renaissance of interest during the 1950s and 1960s. Several distinguished American poets of that era wrote prose poems, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Robert Bly, to name a few. In 1989, Charles Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End.

Over time, individuals and groups of writers have adapted the form and developed their own rules and restrictions, ultimately widening the parameters of prose poem form.  Other prose poets involved include (among many others) Paul Fort, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Patchen, John Ashbery, and Mark Strand. However, prose poetry was not embraced by all. T.S. Eliot contested the form and argued that it lacked the rhythm and musical patterns of verse; he did, however, write one published prose poem called “Hysteria.”

It may be said that the prose poem is not yet, and likely never will be, defined by a specific “method.” That is, a “prescription” for writing prose poems is elusive at best. Prose poet Russell Edson stated in his essay “The Prose Poem in America” (published by Parnassus in 1976), “… for all the interesting poets who have written them, the prose poem has yet to yield up a method.”

Today, prose poetry is developing a 21st century character. It remains uniquely neither poetry nor prose but is fundamentally a hybrid of the two, and is widely considered its own genre. Because prose poems do not function in a linear, logical manner, some may seem, at first blush, to be rather “odd.” They frequently require considerable thought and, more often than not, they mean much more than the words they contain. For poets who embrace the form, prose poetry is both a challenge and a delight that takes poetic art into a singular area of aesthetic expression.


Examples:


From the Semi-Annual Cross-Stitch Conference, Savvy Stitch
By Rogan Kelly


The bird died on a Thursday. She held it all night like an egg. Next morning, she packs the car with the bird in a cooler, wedges it in the middle console and drives to a conference in Jersey. Others went to dinner. She returns to the room where the winged body rests by the window: a grey vase of tulips on the sill beside. She pulls strips of lettuce from a turkey sandwich, collects part of the crust from the bread. And when she speaks to the empty room, her voice is the faint rusted creak of a half-hinged storm door before the wind picks up.

Wisdom in a Crayon

By Gary Szelc

                    (for Eleanor)

          My daughter, my daughter, did you leave me a page in my notebook?

At last, I find an empty sheet, and begin to write. But then, when I turn the page on my written thoughts, a childish scrawl reveals indigo streaks of a magic universe where the curve of an angel’s wing unfurls to one side and flutters in a breeze. On the page before my discourse, a rainbow horse swirls over a fuchsia tinted sea. Elsewhere, a purple forest and orange fruit surround a curious red spider (or octopus) or perhaps a swinging orangutan. There is marvel after marvel in this museum-quality exhibit of imagination—so much wisdom in crayon. So much that I tear out the page with my once pithy words.


Nuthatch
By Ray Cicetti

I watch it fly across the yard, carrying sunrise on its back, then land upside down on the sugar maple, wings tucked in like a teaching, only to disappear into the dark woods, like a small blue god's visitation. How I want to follow it, praise it, cup its soft fierceness in my hands.
I step into the moment, arms outstretched, and secretly become a bird. I breathe in autumn's fullness and turn in the crisp air.
The morning lifts me like wings over charcoal roofs. I warm my lined face with my hands, far away from the poverty of knowing. Awake as I will ever be.

Where He Hangs My Hat
By Bob Rosenbloom

If I begin to wear a hat, it could mean that an old Jew—not just any old Jew, but my father, a sweet, old Jew—has gained ground and overtaken my body. He’s begun to enter my soul. His hand has entered my hand through a gaping hole at the wrist and begun to write the rough draft of this poem under another title. We had so many heated arguments across the kitchen table. Only the food cooled off. I defended Al Sharpton. Dad kept the right wing flapping. We were pig-headed, stubborn. Mom refereed and sent us to our rooms when she had enough. Maybe my father has forgiven everything: dropping out of school, smoking pot, being named in a Brooklyn College lawsuit against SDS members. I did nothing wrong. It’s been decades. All the witnesses are gone.


Waiting for Ed McMahon
By Laura Boss

Ed McMahon, today is January 24th and I am sitting here waiting for you.  I am waiting for you to bring me ten million dollars. You sent me a letter two months ago with my name on the envelope in two-inch letters saying I was a winner—or at least that's the way it looked until I read it a second time. But then it seemed that I still had a really good chance of your giving me ten million dollars if I would just get my envelope back to you on time—especially if I affixed the gold sticker with the number 10 million correctly though it was hidden among all the magazine subscription stickers and to even further my chances I took a subscription to a magazine I didn't especially want, and Ed McMahon, I stuck that sticker on so carefully and even checked that I wanted my payment in one lump sum rather than monthly installments, and yes, I checked that I'm willing to be televised when you hand me that check for ten million dollars.  And because I was getting my letter back to you so fast, Ed McMahon, I stuck the bonus Jaguar sticker on its special card in my choice of green though I hesitated for a few seconds over the red one. And I left my calendar free for today—no free lance workshops (not that I have them everyday though I wish I did so I wouldn't be waiting so desperately for you today, Ed McMahon). Ed McMahon, I am sitting here waiting for you. I am waiting for you to bring me my ten million dollars.

 
The Beef Epitaph
Michael Benedikt

This is what it was: Sometime in the recent but until now unrecorded past, it was decided by certain ingenious and commercially forward-looking cattle-ranchers in a certain large, modern Western nation which prides itself on being nutritionally forward-looking, that since people are increasingly nutrition-conscious, and increasingly insistent that “you are what you eat,” all cattle on the way to market were to be marked with brief descriptive tags noting the favorite food of each animal; and also stating approximately how much each ate of it. This, it was felt, would both delight the diner and comfort the nutrition-conscious consumer: people would be able to tell exactly what kind of flavor and texture of beef they were purchasing beforehand, and always be able to secure exactly the kind of product most likely to delight their taste, since they would know a whole lot more than ever before about the quality and kind of nourishment which the animal had received (it was a little like our own, well-established, present-day modern American system of catering to preferences for light and dark meat in chicken—by supplying each part shrink-wrapped in a separate bag in the supermarkets). The system set up by those ingenious and commercially forward-looking cattle-ranchers was remarkably efficient; and seemed—at least at first—to be destined for success. This is how it worked: First, on each animal’s last day on the ranch, they attached the main, or so-called “parent” tag—made out according to information provided by each rancher, or their hired hands, or even (in some cases) their immediate family—to each head of livestock. The information contained on each tag would be of course be definitive, since it was compiled just before the two or three days required for shipment of the animal to the slaughterhouse—during which travel time, of course, the animal customarily doesn’t eat anything, anyway.... Once at the slaughterhouse, they carefully removed the “parent tags”; and during the slaughtering, mechanically duplicated them numerous times, preparing perhaps hundreds of tiny labels for each animal. Immediately afterwards, at the packing plant, these miniature, or “baby” tags were affixed, respectively to the proper bodily parts—each section of each animal being separately and appropriately tagged, each as if with an epitaph. But then something went wrong with this means of delighting the diner, and of comforting the nutrition-conscious consumer. At first, quite predictably, the tags came out reading things like “Much grass, a little moss, medium grain” and “Much grass, much grain, generally ate a lot.” And this, as one might expect, proved (at least at first), a great pleasure to purchasers! But then tags began coming through reading things like “A little grass, a little grain, many diverse scraps from our table”; and “She was our favorite pet—gave her all we had to give”; and there was even one (featured at dinnertime one evening on network television news) which was tear-stained and which said, in a child’s handwriting, “Good-bye, Little Blackie Lamb, sorry you had to grow up—I’ll sure miss you!” And so, gradually, despite its efficiency, this system somehow ceased to delight the diner, and comfort the nutrition-conscious consumer. And this is how the practise of The Beef Epitaph became generally neglected over the course of time; and how the members of a large, nutrition-conscious, and otherwise generally quite sophisticated modern nation very much like our own, came to eat their beef—as indeed they still do today—partially or even totally blindfolded.

From Night Cries, published by Wesleyan University Press, 1976. 
Copyright ©1976 and Copyright © 1999 by Michael Benedikt. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Laura Boss, Executor of Michael Benedikt’s literary estate.



Writing Prose Poems


First Try:

1. Go for a walk or find a quiet place to think and ponder some memories or experiences. Free-write for a couple of pages. Follow leaps of thought that catch your attention.

2. Read through what you wrote and highlight a few phrases that have special meaning for you (not too many).

3. Think about the emotional center of what you’ve written—this will become the emotional center of your poem.

4. Use selected portions of your free-write as the basis for a one-paragraph prose poem (be sure to vary your sentence length and structure).

5. Incorporate at least two striking images.

6. Include internal rhymes and slant rhymes, alliteration, or other poetry devices. Be sure to work on these as you write, or during the early stages of revision.

7. Cut out anything that is not essential. Do this increasingly strongly as your revision progresses.

8. When you feel you’re close to a final draft, read your prose poem aloud to yourself. What do you hear? Is there a definite “sound quality” to your poem? Does your imagery strike and stun? Have you nodded to the surreal? Have you incorporated both complete sentences and deliberate fragments?


Second Try:

1. For starters, think in terms of a single paragraph as your goal for this prose poem. Approach your subject knowing that you won’t be concerned with meter, stanzas, or line breaks. Your prose poem will take the shape of a paragraph (think “box,” and be sure to justify both the left and right margins when you type your poem). Remember to include complete sentences and sentence fragments.

2. For content: think about a particular image that remains clear in your memory.

3. Now think about how that image entered your memory. Where were you?  Was anyone with you? What happened? How did you feel?

4. Write a paragraph based on the image and about the experience. Bear in mind that your poem’s “muscle” will lie in the strength of your sentences. You will need to express thoughts and subtleties in ways that might be hampered by line breaks.

5. Pay particular attention to poetic devices (simile, metaphor, alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, repetition, onomatopoeia, symbolism). Focus on describing the images and your feelings.

6. You may tell a story, but remember that the storyline is second to the language you use to tell it. There are two caveats.

     A. Your prose poem shouldn’t read like a diary entry.
     B. Be careful not to go over the top with poetic devices and poetic language.


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