Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pondering the Prose Poem

I have accepted some prose poems for publication in Valparaiso Poetry Review over the years, and they have delighted me. Yet, I must admit I am always puzzled by the choice of form for the authors. Nevertheless, I have appreciated the history of the prose poem and its practice among American poets—for example, as placed forward by David Lehman in his anthology, Great American Prose Poems (Scribner, 2003).

Still, even with the best prose poems, I frequently find myself automatically re-organizing the poetry, and I discover that separating the composition into lines most times enhances the poem for me, offering additional emphasis of key words or phrases, perhaps accentuating the rhythm. Indeed, on those occasions when I have consciously attempted to compose a prose poem, I eventually have surrendered to the lure of lines and stanzas.

The current issue of Slate contains a lovely prose poem by Mark Strand, titled “Ever So Many Hundred Years Hence,” accompanied by audio of the poet reading his work. I encourage readers to visit the page and experience the original poem as it appears.

I acknowledge that I enjoy Mark’s poem very much and, as usual, his performance of the piece is engaging. I also wish to disclose that I was Mark’s student, and I first learned about the composition of poetry from him. However, upon reading this poem, I again wondered why the work is written as a prose poem rather than divided into lines and stanzas. I confess, as I read the poem, my eyes immediately reshaped its content into the following:

Ever So Many Hundred Years Hence

Down the milky corridors of fog, starless
scenery, the rubble of ocean's breath,
that lone figure strolling, gathering

about him without shame a small flood
of damages, concessions to a frailty
that was his long before he knew

what he must do or what he must be,
and now, with his hand outstretched
as if to greet the future, he comes

close and pours out to me the subtlety
of his meaning, and I see him,
my long-lost uncle, great and golden

in the sudden sunlight, who predicted
that he would reach over the years
and be with me and that I would be waiting.

I am curious about others’ reactions to prose poems, and I invite readers to offer their thoughts on the form.


Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

I've started teaching prose poetry to my students, and what I emphasize is that there are so many ways to do it well - and it is also so easy to fall flat when writing one.
In one lesson, I show them prose poems from Ilya Kaminsky, Matthea Harvey, Denise Duhamel, Oliver do la Paz...and then a smattering of haibun from Basho to contemporary examples. I personally also love Sandra Alcosser's prose poems in Except by Nature.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon said...

I think the advantage in a prose poem is that it invites the reader's eye to rush along in a familiar format--the way we read story, news, advertisements, even-- without lingering on line turnings, straight to the poem's heart, which is usually it's end. It works well with intensely emotional subject matter, poorly with discursive, unless it's particularly pithy-the embodiment of Rosellen Brown's definition of poetry as a "fast high."

However, I agree that most prose poems do break down well into lines, if not stanza. And that Strand's poem in particular looks beautiful on the page as you have structured it. However, I cannot imagine Linda Mitchell's lovely "Winter's Edge" in any other format.

Those who think that prose poems are failed stories--and there are some, but not here, probably--should consider that most stories would not be elucidated by being broken into lines, as you have done.

Maureen said...

I first clicked over to Slate to see the poem as published. The poem is a single sentence and, fortunately for reading aloud, is punctuated (without those pauses the commas force, the reading would be breathless). Hearing the poem read especially made me visualize it and I "saw" the poem broken out into stanzas. You broke it out into three-line stanzas; I into two-line stanzas with slightly different end breaks and a single concluding line.

I don't mind prose poems when they are kept short but very long ones I find difficult to "hear" and, sometimes, see as I read them. Perhaps it's just a matter of preference and what we're used to.

With poems like Strand's, which I think acquires greater power broken into stanzas, I'm curious, too, why the prose format is chosen.

Ira Sadoff said...

The prose poem is a form all its own with its own expectations, using the sentence as a lever of music and syntax instead of the line. Like all poetic forms it has a history, beginning (popularly) with Baudelaire. The prose poem itself questions our understanding of the boundary between prose and poetry (between narrative and lyric as well) and often uses diction that satirizes or undermines poetic diction (Russell Edson's the most immediate example). Michael Delville has an excellent book on the subject: The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre. I also devote a chapter of my book HISTORY MATTERS to the postmodern prose poem. But to lineate a well-written prose poem would accomplish the same end as removing end rhyme from a sonnet.

Chef E said...

For some reason when I write a poem, it ends up one long paragraph, but recently my MFA on-line group re-arranged it like this, and I liked it. Funny how other poets see line breaks we struggle with...I feel true prose poetry takes you on a journey in time and space that cannot happen in line breaks, and I have rarely written one of those.

Edward Byrne said...

My thanks for all the fine comments. I appreciate these perspectives, and I hope others will add to the discussion as well with further insights into the composition or allure of the prose poem.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic, and it one I have been engaged with all of my life. From one of my earliest books, Paragraphs, I have been involved with the issues you raise about prose and poetry, line breaks and pure prose linearity. The simplest answer to your question about why prose instead of line breaks for an intensely felt piece of writing, such as the Strand, is of course visual and rhythmical. As Frank O'Hara once said: even in prose, I am a poet. It also has something to do with Ginsberg's idea of the long breath, and how the line expands, and sometimes that expansion leads to prose. Finally, there is subversion at work here. We love poetry, and yet we destroy it at its roots, to make it new again. Thus the prose poem.

M. G. Stephens (stephensmg@hotmail.com)

Sandy said...

Poets Market 2009 featured an article of mine on this subject. I agree that the p. poem is often misunderstood. Our eye naturally follows the paragraph, making it deceptively "simple" to enter the poem experience (a prose poem is a poem and not a story). We often find ourselves rearranging the piece into lines--deconstruction and syntactical variations are fun to play with when considering all the possibilities!