Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I’m glad to see such a lively discussion starting up. This is what this damn ‘blog thing was supposed to do.

Although, I do share many of the views Chad and Nate have put forward, I’m going to complicate things, I think. My time at Michigan has made me pay closer attention to form and meter. Although I do not think that meter defines poetry, I think that my interest/obsession with what meter can do (or can be stretched to do) has sent me in the opposite direction. I agree with Joe that once the meteric=poetry definition is abandoned, no real definition of poetry can be used as a key (i.e., it fits the definition, therefore it’s poetry, etc.). At least none that I can think of. And I think I’ve been driven to screw with meter specifically because, like you, Joe, I’m never quite sure I can justify that the things I write are, in fact, poems. I’m not sure I really understand the prose poem impulse or prose poetics at all.

I rarely write prose poems: the only two I’ve written in the last four years were poems that I could never figure out how to lineate.

I think, ultimately, it might be less of a definitive distinction and more of a topographical question (stay with me here). That is, poems can certainly tell stories, but a long-ish prose poem that is heavily narrative becomes indistinguishable from what we call short fiction, no? And what if we have a novel-length work that doesn’t really assert a continuous or coherent narrative at all, but instead is a loosely strung collection of vignettes (here’s that word again), recollections (real or imagined or a little of both), descriptions or meditations, all more or less lyrical? Insert line-breaks and you have a long, long poem? Hold the line-breaks and what do you have? Although these questions are possible points of departure for discussion, I think they illustrate the “topographicality” of my perspective. Outside of the literature which takes no “formal” risks, I think the best we can do nowadays is approximate and delineatory (“This poem is mostly lyrical with a faint narrative thread” or “This story, while having long stretches of very interesting and seemingly disconnected dialogue, still possesses a definite narrative arc and flow.” or “This prose piece is definitely poetic (i.e. lyrical?)”)

I don’t know. Now I’ve just confused myself.

(Initially I wrote: “Imagine literature as a town with lots of neighborhoods: once profoundly segregated and ghettoized, it now has neighborhoods whose delineations are fluid. Most literature is still in the usual places: stuffy, ultra-intellectual stuff in posh, Victorian digs, but there’s also work that resides just on the border . . .” but I think this extended metaphor is contrived and stupid. Thoughts?)


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