Monday, March 13, 2017

Prose poems are go!

Image result for great american prose poem
There is much cross over between prose and poetry forms in contemporary literature, which one can read about in David Lehman's excellent anthology The Great American Prose Form. What he argues in his comprehensive introduction is that we need to rid ourselves of the idea that postmodernism was the advent of writers blurring genre boundaries and realize that writers, poets and prose writers both, have been mashing together the forms for quite awhile; rigid ideas of what "poetry" is should be loosened because the way the better (and lesser poets) of the day compose their verse won't obey some one's global dictums. The marvel of the anthology is that the selections contradicts the general assumption of casual fans of contemporary poems--those readers who haven't much knowledge of American poetry besides a blurred and indistinct knowledge of the Beats--is that the prose poem, as a form, isn't a radical and irreducible avant garde gesture only recently dropped on our country's credulous readership. (Although we could use more bomb throwers and trashers of tattered form to allow us to sharpen our wits, collectively, or at least argue constructively about what matters when   we use words to describe events and things and feelings about the world we attempt to navigate with a minimum of meanness of spirit). 

As the subtitle insists, it begins roughly with Poe with his many effusions that roamed beyond his Gothic decadence and wondered about the metaphysical of the universe that is always striving to balance its harmonies against man's self will, and taking us through the chatty  and unarmored paragraph-based lyricism of coming generations, a  diverse collection from TS Eliot, HD, Amy Lowell, Billy Collins, Gertrude Stein, The Beats, Leslie Scalapino, Michael Palmer, an impressive roster of writers, scribblers, musers, ponderers and poets all who've found themselves , at various times, realizing that even the relative freedom of "free verse" was not enough to extend language beyond the limits of what a sentence can quest to uncover and address and turned to the paragraph, that block of sentences on which our most exploitable accounts of what we experience in the world we explore, and attempt to drive into the deepest parts of their individual mysteries. 

This is not the paragraph that instructs, enlightens, persuades, berates or conventionally seduces, it is the paragraph as poetic expression, the act of taking what is otherwise common place and otherwise banal in the world and subjecting to a scrutiny and interrogation that might reveal a dualism otherwise obscured, or perhaps expose a universe of dualism that multiply and continue to do so until we stop looking for then. Styles, cadences, idioms and such vary greatly here among the writers  according to their backgrounds, regions, gender , and each pen to paper, each finger to typewriter eye, each attempt to take what one knows and test against what is not already cast  in one's vernacular is a journey surprising , passionate, chaotic, incoherent and vital in keeping our language relevant and, shall   we say, self-correcting when another era's metaphors cease to give us light and instead are grown      over with such foliage that only a noxious shade is available to   us.