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Prose Poetry Presentation

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outline presentation for Lyric Essay class @ SFUAD

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Prose Poetry Presentation

  1. 1. Attack of the hybrids Prose poetry: a bit of history/controversy & examples
  2. 2. Prose Poetry • ...[It is a] controversially hybrid and (aesthetically and even politically) revolutionary genre... With its oxymoronic title and its form based on contradiction, the p. p. is suitable to an extraordinary range of perception and expression, from the ambivalent (in content as in form) to the mimetic and the narrative (or even anecdotal). ... Its principal characteristics are those that would insure unity even in brevity and poetic quality even without the line breaks of free verse: high patterning, rhythmic and figural repetition, sustained intensity, and compactness. • In the p. p. a field of vision is represented, sometimes mimetically and often pictorially, only to be, on occasion, put off abruptly; emotion is contracted under the force of ellipsis, so deepened and made dense; the rhapsodic mode and what Baudelaire called the “prickings of the unconscious” are, in the supreme examples, combined with the metaphoric and the ontological: the p. p. aims at knowing or finding out something not accessible under the more restrictive conventions of verse (Beaujour). (p. 977) • —From The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics
  3. 3. Roots • Born out of poetic rebellion in 19th century France through progenitors such as Charles Baudelaire and Aloysius Bertrand • The “rebellion factor” comes into play when you consider the stringency of French law regarding published works at the time • Baudelaire was already pushing boundaries in terms of content and poetic vision. Then in the 1860s (ish), he began pushing the boundaries of form by publishing prose poetry:
  4. 4. Baudelaire on Prose Poetry • “Who among us has not, in his days of ambition, dreamed the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple and agile enough to adapt to the lyrical movements of the soul, to the undulations of daydreams, to the leaps of consciousness?” • He wanted to create a new language, one that was not ordered, was more modern and that broke with tradition. In addition to restraints on content, French poetry at the time was strictly metered. • Wildly considered a great influence on some modern poets and certainly the progenitor of prose poetry
  5. 5. Haters gonna hate Prose Poetry rejected many times since its origins by poets and poetry establishments alike. T.S. Eliot was not a fun and wrote an essay, “Reflections on Vers Libre” in which he stated: “Vers libre has not even the excuse of a polemic; it is a battle-cry of freedom, and there is no freedom in art. And as the so called vers libre which is good is anything but “free”, it can better be defended under some other label. Particular types of vers libre may be supported on the choice of content, or on the method of handling the content. I am aware that many writers of vers libre have introduced such innovations, and that the novelty of their choice and manipulation of material is confused—if not in their own minds, in the minds of many of their readers—with the novelty of the form. But I am not here concerned with imagism, which is a theory about the use of material; I am only concerned with the theory of the verse-form in which imagism is cast. If vers libre is a genuine verse-form it will have a positive definition. And I can define it only in negatives: (1) absence of pattern, (2) absence of rhyme, (3) absence of metre. The third of these qualities is easily disposed of. What sort of a line that would be which would not scan at all I cannot say.” (New Statesman, March, 1917)
  6. 6. As for the prose poets • Even some of them find it hard to assess. • “I hesitate to use the word form when speaking of prose poems, because for all the interesting poets who have written them, the prose poem has yet to yield up a method.” (“The Prose Poem in America, written by prose poet Russell Edson, 1976) • “The prose poem has the unusual distinction of being regarded with suspicion not only by the usual haters of poetry, but also by many poets themselves.” —Charles Simic
  7. 7. And yet… • The prose poem perseveres and is, perhaps, more popular than ever, while still elusive. In Beltway Quarterly’s 2013 issue on Prose Poetry, Abigail Becker defines it thusly: “The signature element of prose poetry is that it has no line breaks like traditional poetry. A prose poem looks like a block of text on the page, running from left to right margins without care where the lines break. It’s a chunk of prose that reads like poetry. In a prose poem, the unit of rhythm is the sentence rather than the enjambed line, but those sentences must be imbued with the lyricism and sonic play of a lined poem. A prose poem is not a lined poem smooshed together with the line breaks removed. It’s usually obvious when a poet has tried this approach, as the tension still resides in the old lines and you can hear them begging for enjambment. A prose poem finds its tension in sentences—its cadence starts and stops with punctuation, with the long sentence and then the short, with repetition, alliteration and internal rhyme built in. Prose poetry offers the best of verse and prose, spinning off down poetic byways but offering the assumed approachability of a paragraph, while all the time rattling the cages of both genres.”
  8. 8. Other (possible) characteristics • No line breaks • Chunk of block of text • The sentence is the measure of the piece (the prose element) • But the sentences still rely on alliteration, internal rhythm, repetition (poetry) • Beltway Review argues that its form makes it particularly open to epistolary and ekphrastic subjects • Has only grown more popular since the 20th century, as formalism became less widespread
  9. 9. Lyric Essay & Prose Poetry • Shared traits: genre hybrids, controversial, difficult to define • Also difficult to distinguish: what’s the difference between flash nonfiction (or fiction for that matter) and a prose poem? Ask 100 writers and hear 100 answers. • Generally, one could argue that when language overtakes narrative devices (plot, linearity, character), then it becomes a prose poem, but that’s pretty murky.
  10. 10. containers • Another way of thinking about both lyric essay and prose poetry is each hybrid’s focus on containment and content • Flash is about compression of content into a contained and speedy piece of writing • The hermit crab essay is about appropriation of existing form to contain unlikely content • The prose poem focuses on containing poetic sensibility within the prose form, i.e. sentences, paragraphs versus line breaks • What do we learn about writing from thinking about fluidity versus containment in this way?
  11. 11. “Foucault and Pencil” • First, let’s listen to Davis read this piece while reading along. As you do, think about the inherent characteristics of poetry and prose, and how this piece makes use of them. • Obviously, this piece by Lydia Davis appears in an anthology of essays, so why include it in our discussion of prose poetry? Is it flash? Is it prose poetry? What characteristics does it have? • What’s happening on the surface of the piece; what’s it “about” underneath the surface action?
  12. 12. “Foucault and Pencil” • Actually is the longest “story” in her collection of short stories “Almost No Memory.” In an interview with NPR, Davis says of the piece: “The plot is that a woman — and I think of her as a sort of sad academic — she's been given a much-coveted grant and thinks, sort of unrealistically, that now she will be able to stop teaching. Teaching is very difficult for her. And of course that's modeled on my own experience. I find teaching — I like it, but I find just walking into the classroom and facing the students very difficult. ... A lot of that was exactly echoing my own feelings riding up on the bus — I insisted on taking the bus rather than my car, I don't know why — to the university and wishing there'd be a minor accident. You know, a flat tire or something. Nobody would get hurt, but somehow it would prevent the class happening. ... The stage fright was enormously difficult. So the five or 10 minutes before the class were agony.” —http://www.npr.org/2014/04/06/299053017/lydia-davis-new-collection- has-stories-shorter-than-this-headline
  13. 13. “Sleep” by Brian Lennon • An excerpt from “City: An Essay,” which is divided into six titled sections (and has been described in reviews as six sections of prose poems) • From the book’s description, “Though classified as creative nonfiction, City is an open genre piece that reads with the rhythm and beauty of poetry.” • What is this excerpt concerned with? What associations does it make? • What impact do the chunks of text and white space have on the content? • What observations do you have about the poetics of the language?
  14. 14. Field Guide • In The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, editors Gary McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek describe the prose poetry as the intersection between fiction, nonfiction and poetry and discuss its popularity with feminist poets and experimentalist writers • The genesis of the book came in part because the editors realized there weren’t enough craft essays on prose poetry to even make an anthology • So if you’re looking for lots of craft essays and prose poems, this would be a good choice.
  15. 15. Bob Hicok • What do you observe about the language in this prose poem essay? • What is his argument for prose poetry • What are the metaphors • What is the stance, POV of this piece? • What else?
  16. 16. Arielle Greenberg, “Ticking the Box” • What has Greenberg’s experience been with strict received forms? What is her argument in favor or hybrid writing? • Observations about “Ord” and “On the Use of a View: An Essay.” • What is “Ord” about? Observations about its language? • What makes “On the Use of View” an essay, do you think?
  17. 17. Tung-Hui Hu • In “It’s not in Cleveland, But I’m Getting Closer,” Tung- Hui Hu writes: “…a good prose poem makes its own envelope.” And, indeed, prose poetry in a variety of places is referred to a bowl, a block, a box of poetry • Hu writes that a prose poem “must convince you it’s a poem” and compares the fragmentation of a postcard to that of a prose poem
  18. 18. Lisboa, 1755; Five Dollars • In “Lisboa, 1755,” what is happening? • What elements of writing does the piece contain? • What observations do you have about the word choice and the sentences? • What’s different in “Five Dollars”? How would you describe the piece; what associations does it make?
  19. 19. Postcard • In fact, in “A Brief Guide to the Prose Poem,” Danielle Mitchell describes “the postcard” as a category of prose poetry: • Fragmented in nature • Has concern with a sense of place (the form dictating or informing the content) • Has the inherent sense of being addressed outward to someone else (perhaps someone particular) • An example Mitchell cites is • “Postcard to I. Kaminsky from a Dream at the Edge of the Sea” by Cecilia Woloch.
  20. 20. Guess what we’re doing • Options: Use the postcard to write a postcard prose poem (draft) that encompasses focus on a sense of place and POV • Use the postcard to write a prose poem with ekphrastic leanings, using the image on the postcard for inspiration • You can further develop these for your small group discussions next week, or write “something new” that adheres to the prose poetry parameters we’ve discussed.
  21. 21. Small Workshop Groups Group 3: Daniela, Amaya, Ana Stina, Josh Group 4: Melinda, Marjorie, Cris, Jen H, Kim • You’ll be discussing each piece’s characteristics of poetry and prose. You’ll also offer general observations and suggestions. Group 1: Liz, Andrew, Felicia, Kim Group 2: Franco, Marisa, Charli, Nic Bring copies for each of your group and one for me.
  22. 22. The Video Essay • As someone of you may recall from Tell It Slant, multi- media pieces also are cited as a form of lyric essay, as these, too, create hybrids between forms. • The video essay is one example, and has been growing in popularity. • In Blackbird, John Bresland deems it the video essay, trying to distinguish it from film (Lopate describes it as a centaur, and seems suspicious). • Marilyn Freeman in TriQuarterly writes of the way video essays, like lyric essays, blend genre and defy the expectations of genre.
  23. 23. The Video Essay “Like the literary side of its family, the video essay invites nonlinear, associative thought and digression. It doesn’t try to argue, persuade or solve problems (though it might accomplish such things). But something else distinguishes the video essay’s poetic aspect; it resides in the liminal space between sound and image, and inhabits that space differently than typical movies. Conventional films are made to appear seamless and to move audiences forward along a dramatic line. By contrast, the video essay aims to move audiences deeper. It disrupts the smooth impenetrable surface of standard cinema with unexpected couplings of sound and image. Those couplings open up the video essay to interpretation and invite in audiences to co-create meaning.” —Freeman
  24. 24. Let’s Watch Some • As we do, ask these questions: In what way is the video essay transgressive? What expectations does it disrupt? What associations are made that might not be otherwise as the result of image and sound with words in a non- linear format? • “That Kind of Daughter” by Kristen Radtke and “Wolfvision” by Robyn Schiff and Nick Twemlow

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