Monday, September 1, 2008

Always the Beautiful Answer - Prose Poem Primer

Poet Peter Klappert's Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, Six Gallery Press,Pittsburgh, PA, 2008.

My friend Peter Klappert sends a copy of his new book plus Ruth Kempher's Always the Beautiful Answer: A Prose Poem Primer (the anthology was first published in 1999 and is now back in print). RK begins with a definition...

PROSE, n. 1. Speech or writing without metrical structure: distinguished from verse. 2. Commonplace or tedious discourse.

POEM, n. 1. A Composition in verse, characterized by the imaginative treatment of experience and a condensed use of language that is more vivid and intense than ordinary prose... any composition characterized by intensity and beauty of language or thought: a prose poem.

Age 19 serving in the U.S. Navy (LST 914) in the combat zone in Korea (c. 1952), I began writing... something... and reading everything I could find in the ship's library. In fact, I was ship's librarian... anyway Ruth Kempher includes Carl Sandburg's Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry, which I read then and haven't much looked at since. Now it all comes back... vividly, stuff that helped tease me into wanting to write. Sandburg's definitions of poetry include:

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

2. Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.

3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, 'Listen!' and 'Did you see it?' 'Did you hear it? What was it?'

Anthology includes Charles Baudelaire's "The Stranger," "The Soup and the Clouds" and the editor's note, "The prose poem began as a conscious form in nineteenth century France, pioneered by Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire. The form represented a kind of reaction against the strict poetic dictates of the French Academy...

And Michael Hathaway's tribute / "Ode to Grandpa Hathaway," poet and editor I knew in the mid-1960s when I was teaching at Cornell and serving on Prof. William Hathaway's magazine, EPOCH. Michael Hathaway's poem meets / satisfies all 3 of Carl Sandburg's definitions.

Anyway, I send thanks to Peter Klappert, whose new book Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, I turn to next. Then to play his CD / Library of Congress Podcast,"The Poet and the Poem."