Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Prose Poems

I've had a busy week so I was glad of the prompt which enabled me to post an old poem from my files. If it is a poem. What makes a prose poem?

I don't think I can answer this, but I believe that it is not really a question that is specific to prose poetry. The question "is it a poem?" is the same question whether it is a piece of writing that has rhyme and metre, or has line breaks, some sort of metre but no rhyme, or whether it is set out in prose (or any variant in between these).

Is it poetry, verse or a jingle?
Is it poetry, or a political statement with line breaks?
Is it poetry or just a rather strange piece of prose?

I don't know.

The first time I found out there was such a thing as a "prose poem" was at the first every poetry workshop I attended. I was browsing a collection of poetry books that were available for our inspiration, and came across the work of Charles Simic. His prose poems are delightfully surreal. I hope you might consider exploring them. In the meantime, here is my own contribution:

Six Blind Men and an Elephant

This is a joke my children used to tell. They would pick some unsuspecting person and ask “I’ve got a riddle for you. What is the difference between an elephant and a hammerfor?” They were just waiting for the question “What’s a hammerfor?” and then they could say “Banging nails in”. We know this joke pretty well by now, so the other day when my daughter asked “what’s a hammerfor?” I said “Banging nails in” almost without thinking and then she asked “what’s a metaphor?” Of course the thing about a metaphor is that it’s really only useful if we know both the things being compared. So I might say for instance that a book is a magic carpet that takes us to other worlds. You know, and I know, dozens of ways that a book is not at all like a magic carpet and that’s why we can appreciate the point of the comparison. And then there’s the old story about six blind men and an elephant. One of them felt the trunk and said it was like a snake. Another had a hold of the tail. “An elephant is very much like a rope” he said. A third, grasping the leg, declared that the elephant was like a tree. And so on. But anyone who hasn’t seen an elephant is left with the image of a snake in a tree which has a rope hanging from one branch, which really doesn’t help much at all. So when I learnt that atoms have nuclei with orbiting electrons, I thought of planetary systems and believed I knew what was going on. Then I learnt that light is particles, called photons, which made some sort of sense, until I learnt about light waves. So which is it, particles or waves? Both, and neither, depending on the mathematics, and that’s when physics started to get confusing. Somewhere around Stage 2 I was completely lost, which is to say, I could do the maths and come up with the right answers, but I just couldn’t picture it any more. That was pretty scary, because up till then I thought I could get a handle on just about anything. And somewhere in the years between then and now, the physicists stopped talking about waves and particles and started talking about tiny strings curled up in about ten or thirteen directions. Now, when I think of Einstein saying “God does not play dice with the universe”, all I can picture is God playing Cat’s Cradle.

16 comments:

chiefbiscuit said...

This is engaging and fun. I enjoyed how it spun out and wound up! How it started from a joke and ended up trying to explain the universe ... kind of. Love the ending.

Norma said...

I enjoyed this very much, moving from a child's joke to end with a child's game. I admit this was a challenging assignment, and if I'd come across this poem, I would have thought it an interesting lyrical snippet of memory. It's actually how I write most of the time.

Mind is up.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Catherine, this got me thinking how parents' and teachers' explanations for everything changed so much when we were young. I love the image of God playing Cat's Cradle.

jim said...

Catherine:

The chattiness to this poem makes it a poem, a breathy extension extending beyond an extent and then going a little further.

Jan said...

Lots to chew here.
Like the lightness darkening into something more serious.. Interesting thoughts.
And thanks for the new poet. Shall look him up.

paris parfait said...

Great ending - God playing Cat's Cradle! And lots to absorb within your poem. Well done.

Poet with a Day Job said...

This is one of the most compelling I have read so far today! I love the meanderingness of it - you are utilizing one of my fave things about prose poems: starting from outer space (no pun intended) and finishing in a very specific location, with a very specific point to make. I also love the pace, the urgency and I think it reads very, very well. Plus, you made me laugh. Nice work!

twilightspider said...

This is so fabulously flow-of-conciousness. So many thoughts connected effortlessly. I love the peak into your brain.

la vie en rose said...

very good!

Dennis said...

Hey Congrats! This is a great story, a great poem, and has (at least)two very good laughs in it! Not a bad combination at all. Great images here and really made me think.

Dana said...

This is great. I love the storytelling in this poem and the fantastic ending.

Mary said...

It seems more like nonfiction than prose poetry... but that's just semantics. It was a great read! Funny, witty, and well done.

Brian said...

I love this story and how the harder we look, the smaller things get.

gautami tripathy said...

Very engrossing. I enjoyed this immensely. Reading all those prose poetry has taught me so much.


You too can chk my post, Ambrosial.I would welcome critical comments for this prompt.

.......deb said...

Catherine--this is a delight on so many levels. The prose, of course, and metaphors within metaphors.

Timely, too, as I have finally gotten around to reading "stuff" about quantum physics and sustainability (written for laymen!!) by Fritjof Capra. So I was highly attuned and very excited about the parallels you were drawing. (Capra talks about Einstein's comment and) your last line was fabulous!

rashbre said...

And some say dice are used and maybe God dtill has a few tricks up the sleeve.

smiles from rashbre