Saturday, May 9, 2009

A few days ago, I asked what you all think of prose poems: are they poems, or are they simply prose vignettes with a poetry label? In response to that question, one friend told me that he was "suspicious" of them and, while not elaborating, brought up the parallel question of graphic novel versus comic book.

Comic books bore me after about 10 minutes; as a consequence, I've never even started to read a graphic novel, which, for all I know, might be the next big thing in literature. Prose poems are a different story. Now that I read for Beloit I see a fair number of them, but I'm yet to be convinced of their validity. This is not to say they can't be interesting pieces. But why call them poems? There's plenty of precedent for rich, imagistic, musical prose. Are people calling these things poems because they're short? Or because they have no plot or other traditional structural device? Which leads to the next question: why does lineation seem so important to me?

I'd really like to hear some opposing viewpoints on this matter. In the Beloit circle I already have a reputation as a curmudgeon with a distaste for cool intellectuality and "experimental" doodads--to the point that I have to abstain from even discussing certain styles that drive me crazy. I'll freely admit that prose poems are one of them. I'm all for vers libre, I'm all for loose Whitmanesque lines, I'm all for metrical unpredictability, but I suspect that prose poems aren't broken into lines because they can't be broken into lines because they're not poems--meaning that they're rhythmically amorphous and that individual bits of language don't carry the sonic weight that a lineated poem must bear.

But take me to task on this, really: I'm an idiot about lots of things.

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