Thursday, December 6, 2012

Would you read the poem if it looked like prose?

So I asked in that Codrescu AMA if he saw a distinction between verse and prose. It's an important question if we're not all spitting in the wind.

So I thought, as Jill Essbaum once related, that poems are "skinny and on the left" and thought, well--let's look at them that way.

Here's a poem from A.E. Stallings' excellent Olives, delined:

Jigsaw Puzzle

      First the four corners, then the flat edges. Assemble the lost borders, walk the dizzy ledges, hoard one color—try to make it all connected—the water and the deep sky and the sky reflected. Absences align and lock shapes into place, and random shapes combine to make a tree, a face. Slowly you restore the fractured world and start to re-create an afternoon before it fell apart: Here is summer, here is blue, here two lovers kissing, and here the nothingness shows through where one piece is missing.

Here's a Plath poem delined:


     I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. What ever you see I swallow immediately just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike. I am not cruel, only truthful--the eye of a little god, four-cornered. Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over. Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me, searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. I am important to her. She comes and goes. Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness. In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

And a Shakespearean sonnet:

     How can my muse want subject to invent, while thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse thine own sweet argument, too excellent for every vulgar paper to rehearse? O! give thy self the thanks, if aught in me worthy perusal stand against thy sight; for who's so dumb that cannot write to thee, when thou thy self dost give invention light? Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth than those old nine which rhymers invocate; and he that calls on thee, let him bring forth eternal numbers to outlive long date. If my slight muse do please these curious days, the pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise. 

And one of mine:

     On this wet rock you come, my hair around your waist in streams like ocean foam; the pressured salty taste rests upon my tongue. As we swallow the night the morning rises stung and stained with our delight. Here in this temple crows are swelling from the altar screaming the holy vows I promised I would keep. I have done much more than falter and vengeance never sleeps.

Well apart from my missing a comma (sorry, Annie!) and paling in comparison to the other three poets, I don't know that any "damage" is done to these poems by delining them. Of course, you get a lot of extra meaning possible with enjambment, etc. but is that at the cost of people who are terrified by work that is "skinny and on the left"?

So are we caught in a trap of convention that limits our impact as writers?

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