Monday, June 25, 2012
poems that are prose
Poems that are prose in arbitrary line breaks are strange animals. I've set some of them loose in the wild myself, and it leaves me feeling crestfallen and queasy. Poems that are prose are annoying creatures. They will chew up your brain and make your eyeballs deflate.
So what's the main thing that makes a poem a poem, I ask myself? Maybe it has to do with transcendentalizing the verbs – making movement and tense affective rather than constructive elements. Emphasis on image allowing verbs to glow with an equivocal property. Verbs backlit by the kinetic or latent light coming from fragments of vision. The ordinary of grammatical transport – action and tense – is subsumed into image connotation, with the verb forms paradoxically gathering into themselves a peculiar luster. Something aesthetic begins to occur, rather than simply banging a reader over the head with this-is-what-happened or this-is-how-I-feel.
Joesph Brodsky's poems are exemplary with image-saying and verb-glowing instead of grammatical head-banging:
About a year has passed. I've returned to the place of the battle
to its birds that have learned their unfolding of wings
from a subtle
lift of a surprised eyebrow or perhaps from a razor blade
- wings now the shade of early twilight now of state
Now the place is abuzz with trading
in your ankles's remanants bronzes
of sunburnt breastplates dying laughter bruises
rumors of fresh reserves memories of high treason
laundered banners with imprints of the many
who since have risen.
All's overgrown with people. A ruin's a rather stubborn
architectural style. And the hearts's distinction
from a pitch-black cavern
isn't that great; not great enough to fear
that we may collide again like blind eggs somewhere.
At sunrise when nobody stares at one's face I often
set out on foot to a monument cast in molten
lengthy bad dreams. And it says on the plinth "commander
in chief." But it reads "in grief " or "in brief "
or "in going under."
Above, we have this: "have learned" and "is abuzz" and "have risen" and "may collide" and "set out". These glow for me with an eccentric verbal luminescence that flows into them from concentrated image. We also have: "All's overgrown" and "A ruin's a rather". Here, the verb "is" glimmers aesthetically inside the indefinite pronoun and the evocative noun. Here is interlocution between phenomena and presence.
And I think maybe a prose sentence broken up into arbitrary lines strips a poem of rhythm. Rhythm is another form of sublimation and connotation. Of affective glowing. Musical elements speak to us in secret, into our unconscious tissues. A sentence disguised as poetry is too usual. It lacks eccentricity. The not-usual is what gives a poem its subtle power. The cadence of sentence-saying is too regular, the pulse too familiar. Regularity wounds rhythm, convention dulls. 4/4 time in popular music is not rhythmical. Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, with its weird locomotion, is. And it becomes poetical.
Above with Brodsky, we have rhythm enhanced and working in us, owing to image or image cluster. This poem moves more like a polonaise or masurka than a prosaic zombie shuffle.
So writing with emphasis on images – blocks of phenomena or experience – affects rhythm, makes it lope along peculiarly. Verbs become transcendental conveyers rather than mundane pieces of grammar, of normality. Something different than prose is beginning to happen. The poem now has a chance to be a poem.
A prose paragraph is blah-blah-blah this and blah-blah-blah that. Making a poem stanza out of that stuff makes the poem beg for mercy. And readers turn aggressive: