Assignment: How to Make a Poem out of a Blah Day

fallingletters

Okay, recently I was bored and depressed by the lack of sunshine while I was at work, and in between helping engineers and students with their writing, I wrote this, to redeem the day:

Begin by changing the title, so that the verb Make becomes Cut, something edgy and sharp to contrast with the soft grey of the sky behind the flurries as they fall to the parking lot tarmac and melt into puddles. Find one beautiful thing, like the shiny blue car or the dark-haired woman holding her brown coat closed against the cold. Imagine her destination, the cancer she will beat and the young man she will marry, whole futures you will never know. Return to your own office chair, twirling you from present to future as the desk alternately waves goodbye and hello. Shake crumbs out of your keyboard and see what words fall to join them: speculate, December, winter, winter, winter.

Okay, that is nice, but is it any less a poem than:

Begin by changing the title, so that the verb

Make becomes Cut, something edgy and sharp

to contrast with the soft grey of the sky

behind the flurries as they fall to the parking lot

tarmac and melt into puddles. Find one beautiful thing,

like the shiny blue car or the dark-haired woman

holding her brown coat closed against the cold.

Imagine her destination, the cancer

she will beat and the young man she will marry,

whole futures you will never know. Return to

your own office chair, twirling you from present

to future as the desk alternately waves goodbye

and hello. Shake crumbs out of your keyboard

and see what words fall to join them: speculate,

December,

winter,

winter,

winter…

They history of prose poetry as a subversive form suggests that this poem is probably not crazy and exploratory enough. The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who coined the term “modernity,” is one of the form’s great-grandfathers. He thought of it as a way to rebel against traditional formal uses of the line, which in that period of French poetry were very strict. He wrote:

“Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, supple and staccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and sudden leaps of consciousness.”            —Dedication of Le Spleen de Paris

More recent writers of prose poetry include Americans Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Allen Ginsburg, Charles Simic and Mary Oliver, so it seems to have moved from the edges to the mainstream. A friend of mine recently attended a workshop on the lyric essay, so when I find out more about that, I may start trying that form too…

Meanwhile, out of a depressing morning, I got a little tiny piece of art. And that is another of the uses of poetry, in whatever form you write it.

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