Rebel Anthologies has a chapbook of several poets out now. It’s titled Fresh Voices and Visons. It’s available on Amazon. It includes six pages of my work, everything from angry rants to observations about nature and people.
Regarding poetry, something has been niggling the back corner of my brain.
I’ve recently subscribed to a newsletter that puts a new poem in my email every day. I’m not going to name the newsletter because of what I have to say here.
I’m bothered by how often the ‘poems’ look like a block of prose.
For me, a poem has a structure. It can have aesthetic elements not usually found in prose. And, though it appears to have fallen out of favor with adult poetry, sometimes it rhymes.
Prose is storytelling. Poetry is expressing a thought or thoughts on a subject. Poetry can tell a story especially if it is a memory.
While I want to write novels, prose can be a struggle for me.
Poetry, however, is part of my core being. I thoroughly enjoy writing it. I can play with punctuation. There are a multitude of recognized structures or I can create my own.
It starts with a thought I want to express. I begin to write and I realize – this could take the form of haiku or sonnet or epigram or ballad or a concrete poem.
Recently two things came together in time. One, I discovered tanka poems and how much I loved writing them. And two, my second husband, who has been my friend for the more than twenty years we’ve been divorced, turned sixty.
So I wrote a tanka about him for a birthday present of sorts.
you sat in our clothes
basket drunk regaling me
with tales of gods and
goddesses your silver tongue
explaining Shiva’s blue throat
It follows tanka structure of:line 1 – 5 syllables,
line 2 – 7 syllables,
line 3 – 5 syllables,
lines 4 and 5 – 7 syllables.
Adding up to 31 syllables.
Writing a poem frequently involves counting syllables or lines, engaging something else that I enjoy; simple math.
Poetry can be used to make an angry rant, political or otherwise, powerful and palatable. The chapbooks of Alice Walker and Joy Harjo come to mind.*
It can be used to express the spirituality that is a comfort to some. I can listen when Thich Naht Hanh reads his poetry and my anger shifts to an overall sense of wellbeing. He says:
Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves
– slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future;
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.
– Thich Nhat Hahn
Mary Oliver’s words remind me not to waste a moment of my life.
These words: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”
And these words: “You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./ You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves.”
And then there’s E.E. Cummings whose poetry defies all rules, makes me smile and go back to read it again and again.
l(a... (a leaf falls on loneliness)
Or Shel Silverstein, who makes every banned book list, for reasons I can not fathom but whose poetry makes me laugh outright.
This evening I unzipped my skin
And carefully unscrewed my head,
Exactly as I always do
When I prepare myself for bed.
Prose is prose and I respect it and take a great deal of pleasure in reading it. But, for me, a poem is something else. So, if I write a block of prose, I call it flash fiction. And if I write a limerick or a Cherita, I call it a poem.
When I read this blogpost to be critiqued - someone asked me - why does this bother me? I don't have a good answer except that the way my mind works - if prose can be poetry then poetry can be prose and if that is the case why do we waste two words? Why not just use the word prose or the word poetry?
Of course, there are authors out there who muddy the waters. Arundhati Roy, for example. Her prose is often poetry. The language in her novel “The God Of Small Things” has a sing-songy, poetic quality. The same with Salman Rushdie and his novel “Haroun and the Sea Of Stories”.
I’m going to leave you with a taste of a universe we haven’t discussed here: slam poetry. If you don’t know it – dip your toe in with this youtube recording of Harry Baker’s slam that won the World Slam Poetry competition in 2012. It’s titled “59”. It’s genius and though I would like to say, I could have written that, I would be lying.
*Critique suggested I quote the poets listed here. It's too complex to do that with these two poets. You might not know Mumai Abu Jamal or Leonard Peltier or John Trudell or Dennis Banks and why Alice Walker wants them freed. You might not know the significance of Rabbit that Joy Harjo speaks of in Mvskoke world. I would need to write additional blogposts on these things and they are my stories to read about and listen to - they aren't my stories to tell.
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