Six second video’s, huh?
(This was taken in the Arnold Arboretum around 8:15 PM on 29-June-2013)
I ran into a reference to prose poetry today and got to wondering what it was. I’ve heard the phrase before, but I had always assumed it was an unofficial descriptor – actually it’s a recognized literary form. First things first, I went to see what Wikipedia had to say.
Prose poetry should be considered as neither primarily poetry nor prose but is essentially a hybrid or fusion of the two, and accounted a separate genre altogether. The argument for prose poetry belonging to the genre of poetry emphasizes its heightened attention to language and prominent use of metaphor. On the other hand, prose poetry can be identified primarily as prose for its reliance on prose’s association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective presentation of truth.
That’s all well and good, but I needed examples. So I followed some of the external references at the bottom of the page and came across this The Prose Poem: An International Journal. It’s no longer in print and not all of the print copies were digitized, but a lot were and they make excellent examples of the form. After reading several, this became one of my favorite:
Wishing immortality, he built a sign bearing his name in the mountains of Montana. The sign stood over thirty feet tall, on four steel pylons sunk into concrete beds. The name itself was made from small pieces of colored glass which he spent several months soldering carefully into place.
His hopes for the sign were great. After he died, he imagined, an unsuspecting hunter would stumble across the sign and throw the switch that ignited the several rows of alternating, multi-colored lights. Stunned by its beauty, the hunter would report back to people in town, who would spread the word to family and friends. Soon the sign would become a tourist spot. New roads would lead to its feet—or, far into the future, people would approach by hovercraft and wonder at the name emblazoned in crystal and light. Stories would circulate. The sign would become myth. And after the first representatives of the Zarnax Empire landed on Earth, they would carry across the galaxy stories of a learned people who had seen the name of their god written in the hills and thus been saved.
But things didn’t work out quite that way. After his death, the few hunters who happened by took pot shots at the sign, destroying whole sections of the intricately arranged glass. A new freeway drew travelers to the south, making area roads obsolete. And even the Zarnaxians never landed, deciding that Earth was worth neither friendship nor conquest.
Not that the sign went completely forgotten. Every now and then, on a crisp autumn night, a teenage boy would take his date into the hills to see the sign that his drunken uncle had once recalled on a hunting trip. He would throw the switch, and the rows of light would shine like a beacon, reflecting off the piecemeal shards of glass. There the boy and girl would share their first kiss, or something else. And eventually they would marry and move east to cities like Grand Forks or St. Paul, west to Boise or Seattle.
And years later, when people would ask how they came to choose one another, he would recall a drunken uncle who told legends about signs in the hills. And she would remember mesmerizing rows of splendid light, spreading beyond the mountains, beyond all spans of time and distance. The light, they agreed, symbolized their love—a jagged ember lodged intractably in their hearts, a surrender written in color for all eternity.
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So it feels like a poem and addresses subjects (types of immortality, folly of hubris, etc.) that are traditional for poetry, but it has no lyrical or poetic structure. Obviously, having just stumbled across this whole topic today, I am in no way qualified to explain it. I can just point out what I like, and I like this! I’ll be keeping an eye out for more examples, and maybe I’ll try my hand at some later. Even poorly written, the best way to get a feel for something is to try it.