The subject of what constitutes the line between poetry and prose has a long--and often querulous-- history. For our purposes here, let's set aside that particular conversation and concede--for the moment--that there is, indeed, a significant difference between the two genres. Beyond the obvious observations, one might say that intention in the making of poetry is as different in the making of fiction as the moon is to the sun.
Roger Rosenblatt, the famed essayist, suggests that poetry tells the "story of emotion" while fiction is looking to tell the "story of actions."
Clearly there is a difference. Let's concede that. And not to belabor the point too much, I will contend that--to paraphrase the Supreme Court definition of what constitutes pornography--"the reasonable person" will recognizes fiction when he (or she) sees it.
But let us set aside the meat of this discussion for now. No doubt, we will return to it at a later time. Instead, let us turn our attention to contemporary letters and to the mixing of genres.
I see in contemporary fiction a decided turn toward the poetic. One need only to look at Toni Morrison's brilliant novel, Beloved, to see how her use of metaphor, pacing, timing, imagery liberally--and joyously--"borrows" from the poetic genre. Clearly, James Joyce, when writing his famous Molly Bloom soliloquy in Ulysses, wrote poetry and not prose when he penned the lines:
"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "
This is simply stunning poetry.
And yet, there it is, glowing at us from the pages of a novel.
So my question is--has been--what do contemporary poets have to learn from contemporary fiction writers?
The easy answer, I suppose--and one that does not suffice--is that fiction gave permission to the prose poem.
Well...I would say that is a decided yes and no.
Yes, in that the prose poem format uses as its core the expectation of the fiction form. This sounds simple and of little consequence.
However, the imagination's hunger for anticipation can not be discounted. Readers come to the prose poem expecting one thing and ultimately getting another. This is a powerful tool for the poet. And yet, I am not certain a tool that contemporary poets use consciously or deliberately.
Let's talk more at a later date.