Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Poets Can Learn from Fiction Writers

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."

Perhaps so.

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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Poetry Landscape

Recently I traveled to Yellowstone National Park. And while it is true I can relate specific observations about this journey, I wanted to offer this one particular angle of vision on the idea of poetry and landscape.

Inside the park--with its otherworldly geyser paint pots of bubbling, boiling blue water (175-200 degrees), canyons waterfalls, summer snow falls and pools of God's eye ochre bacteria--I begin to think of the landscape as the place where God-as-Poet writes--and rewrites--revising and revising earth and sky, time and living creatures.

Beyond the obvious, I saw living nature reaching, evolving, changing, striving toward a dangerous, powerful beauty that exists, happily, for its own sake. The changing combination of elements only true goal is to create many perfections and much joy.

Seems to me to be a lesson for writers in that.