Monday, July 7, 2014

Jazz and the Prose Poem

The prose poem is a bastard child that appeals to me. Billy Collins says, "poetry is bird, prose is a potato." The prose poem is a potato posing as a bird, a bird dressed as a potato. It's not beautiful to look at.

David Shumate, a master of the form, writes: "I am also drawn to the relative homeliness of the prose poem. Its inelegance. A blob in the shape of the state of Kansas. A bulbous dirigible hovering there at the top of the page. Most of the assembled spectators would think it could never fly. But cut the tethers. And stand back. If it’s crafted well, it will hover out over the fields in defiance of all poetic gravity and leave the crowd in awe. But beware. It all pivots on the engineering. And the gases that lift it. The Hindenburg is in ashes."

It's a wonder to give up the line break and restrain my punctuation. I don't use question or quotation marks. I disdain the exclamation point. It's the period and the occasional comma. The words have to punctuate themselves. The prose poem is a high wire walk with cinder blocks, a trapeze flight in a dark room. Its audacity is beautiful.

I'm reminded of this today as I returned to writing prose poetry after a long break. I cranked through two terrible pieces before coming aground on a good one. Land-ho! The good draft does only a portion of what it must but has the feel and sound. Were David Shumate here, he would see that it remains aloft and has yet to burst into flames.

But if Shumate was here I'd likely stop writing. It's difficult to do write when I feel the presence of the masters. Shumate's poems are bizarre, beautiful, funny, strong and deep. They stay with me. Here, read "The Long Road" and see what you think. "It may be years before it's safe to proceed."

That can stop me, but then ego kicks in. I need something to share with my writing group. I can't show up with nothing. I'm better than that. So I write one, two, and on the third try something good happens. Something with possibility. And I like it.

I'm reading a book about finding or rediscovering creativity. It describes ways we seek to put out the creative fire. They keep us from having to face fear. Even choosing to appreciate the prose poem, a bastard, an ugly step-child, is a risk.

In twenty minutes I'll read my draft, to a writing group. It's called "Giant." It's about the jazz trio composed of the father, son, and holy ghost. It's about jazz and something else I'm not sure of yet. The only way to figure that out is to read it aloud, revise, and then go write another. It comes down to this in writing and in life: I just have to write on.