Hello, everyone! So today I have author Audrey Carroll here with an interesting guest post titled “In Defense of Prose Poetry”. Prose poetry is something I’ve never heard before until I read her article. It certainly takes a lot of skill in writing prose poetry.
Audrey T. Carroll is a Queens, NYC native whose obsessions include kittens, coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Rooster Teeth community. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Fiction International, The Fem, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others. Her poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is available from Choose the Sword Press. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter.
In Defense of Prose Poetry
Is prose poetry really poetry, though?
One of the forms I use frequently in my first poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is prose poetry. I started writing it as a challenge to the idea that, in order for it to count as poetry, it had to be line broken traditionally. I wanted to figure out what a prose poem could do, how it could be crafted well and toe that line between prose and poem. In both writing these poems and in explaining (see: justifying) why they looked like blocks of prose, I had to develop some guiding principles for what still qualified them as poems. Here’s some of what I came up with:
1) End words/shaping
They can still matter in prose poems! Some people don’t get drawn to the end of the line as quickly if they don’t see the traditional line break. And there are definitely writers out there who likely don’t fixate on this aspect of a prose poem as they craft it. To me, this was one of the first keys to getting poetic sensibility into the form of the prose poem. Usually I write the first draft based on images, sound, themes—the customary greatest hits of poetry. With a prose poem, I’ll typically start with two inch margin on each side.
When I go back and revise, one of the first things I look at are the end words of each line. I want these end words to be some of the strongest words of the poem. In my poem “Dearth,” for instance (originally appearing in the lit mag Lunch Ticket), some of the end words include “fainting” and “heart” and “starvation.” They punctuate the end of line, functioning in the same way as traditional poems. But the hope is that they also entice the reader to continue to the next line. One of the neat things that this sort of concentration does is force me to look at diction throughout. If a lot of my end words are weak, do I have stronger words elsewhere? Are too many of my words not holding their weight? For something as tight as a poem, these are always valid questions to ask yourself in revision.
One of the neat “tricks” I learned along the way is something I call “shaping.” I mentioned that I’ll typically start out with two inch margin on each side of my prose poem. Maybe I’ve been playing a lot with the words in my poem and made the words throughout as strong as possible, but the end words just won’t agree with me. I can add more white space in the margins or shrink the white space to change the end words. Sometimes, the words make me pick the “shape” of the poem; sometimes the shape helps me pick better words. Usually, both of these things happen.
When I have a phrase for a poem stuck in my head it has a different rhythm to it than my fiction or nonfiction. Of course, I want musicality and for my voice to come through in any writing I do. But I focus on the sound of the words in my prose only in final drafts, when things like character, plot, etc. are all sorted. Like I tell my students writing college essays—you don’t want to get a paragraph into perfect linguistic shape and then discover after the fact that that entire page is irrelevant to your argument and has to go.
But, for poetry, that musicality is essential usually in draft one, or by draft two at the latest. It has a symbiosis with the images and diction and all sorts of aspects, where the sound influences the other craft elements just as much as those craft elements influence the sound. Can this happen in prose? Of course! But I’ve found it to be a much more intimate relationship in poetry. I think that, in a lot of ways, the sound needs to really be ramped up in prose poetry, even more than your traditional line broken poem. In part, this is because line and stanza breaks enhance the cadence naturally in line broken poetry. But there’s also the fact that you will absolutely have readers who are skeptical of the prose poem as a poem. Tight, clearly poetic cadence will help your authorial decision make sense to the reader.
And, finally, something you can get very playful with is the logic or transitions within the prose poem. In prose, my philosophy is to be as clear for the reader as the work you’re writing allows. Again, could prose have looser transitions between thoughts? Of course! But I useprose to convey a narrative. I don’t have that same confinement on my poetry. It could be a narrative, but it could be a narrative constructed from associative images. For my traditionally line broken poems, there might not be a clear connection from moment to moment, and how it all ties together might only be evident after a first read-through. My prose poems take advantage of this as well, getting a little more playful with how it moves from thought to thought.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Olivia for letting me guest post! I love getting to talk about writing, and have especially become passionate about prose poetry as a form (in case you couldn’t already tell). If you’d like to chat about writing (or life/the universe/anything), feel free to say hi any time!
Thank you so much, Audrey for your wonderful post! I’m glad to have you on my blog!
Here’s a little about Audrey’s book: Queen of Pentacles
Queen of Pentacles is a poetry collection that centers around coming to terms with young womanhood. It uses traditional line form and hybrid prose poetry to explore themes of mental illness, personal spirituality especially as tied to nature, bisexuality, anorexia, gender, mortality, and motherhood. And there may be a video game reference or two in there for good measure. It can be purchased athttp://ctspress.com/new/shop/ and releases August 16th, 2016!
There are two giveaways until the release date. On Goodreads, you can enter a free giveaway for a signed copy of Queen of Pentacles (https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/193188-queen-of-pentacles). On Twitter, if you tweet #QueenofPentacles +http://ctspress.com/new/product/presale-queen-of-pentacles/ + follow @AudreyTCarroll, you get one free entry for a signed bundle giveaway: 1 copy of Queen of Pentacles, 3 literary magazines, and one chapbook (details: http://audreytcarroll.tumblr.com/post/147494286640/twitter-giveaway-would-you-like-to-win-something).