Thursday, January 8, 2009
Poetry vs Prose
The Unwritten History of Prose by T.R.Hummer is a poem sussing through a variety of ambiguities about the competing provinces of Specialist Languages. The upshot of the poem is that the the jargon of each linguistic stronghold bleeds in the common parlance in a big way, one is left wondering, if they stepped back long and far enough from the tropes one routinely uses to discuss their life and their relations, that one's self-description of being-in-the-world is far more fractured than they thought. We are a species being, of course, but the conditions of behaviour and purpose are subject to tweaks and tunings from the experts--scientists, ministers, doctors, lawyers--who act, shall we say, in a profound spirit of self-interest. Whether it's enlightened or not depends on where you had your money invested, if you had money to start with.
Fitting that there is poem about prose, as a form, given the surfeit of stanzas about poetry or, more galling, poets talking about being poets. The difference is striking, and considering them, you can appreciate the reasoning poets, good ones, would consider themselves a stand in priesthood, the antenna of the race; poetry is the manifest destiny of the soul, an expansionist form that conspires, contrives , conflates the matters it chooses to deal with into a unified field theory of how the universe operates solely to make us feel a select schedule of moods. There is , perhaps, a theological assumption here, that just as there is a plan , with protocols, God intends for us to have in order to arrive, or not, at the off world point of this life--remember the phrase everything is exactly the way it ought to be in God's universe --poets treat the human experience as if were a fixed menu written in a language only they could read and order from; if crow was what they ordered, crow was what you ate.
Prose would be more concrete, pinpointed, appreciating the density of the concrete and the earthly essences that went in to making all these things adhere and form other things that are made by man; poetry is the tongue of God whispering his will into our ears, prose is the rumble and logical result following the fall from grace, a post- Babel of competing certainties , voices of conviction basing their expertise only in what can be measured, quantified, molded into a tool, a machine, a city of man made things, enterprise divorced from sacred intention, unmindful of consequences that cannot be felt until every enterprise is exhausted and each resource is depleted. Prose is the language of progress, capitalism, the rationale of moving on to the next thing , creating another catastrophe premised on unbound hubris.
I rather like this poem; it says prose is the medium with which we say "here I am, this is what I did, these are my explanations of my actions, my apologies for each and every failure." In the beginning there was the word , and in the end there will only the rubble of a civilization of things created from concepts those words delineated , and perhaps in the end there will be only the fragments of prose bits that survive, half-phrases, intriguing references and terms torn from context and historical fact, mysterious combinations of phrase that become, ironically, poetry all over again. A new Eden might yet arise, and we might yet again be a tribe collectively guessing the meaning and purpose of the sounds we make with the scraps of language set before us.