Archives For poetics of prose

This is a case of reading (an excerpt of) something, thrusting up my fist in solidarity, and then thinking, but wait, what about…

Ugly Duckling Presse has published a chapbook of an essay by the poet Dorothea Lasky titled, “Poetry Is Not a Project.” She says that too many people are referring to books and bodies of work as “projects,” when a poem is more of an organic thing:

I think poems come from the earth and work through the mind from the ground up. I think poems are living things that grow from the earth into the brain.

Based on this excerpt at The The Poetry Blog, the essay seems like it may be a collage piece, a series of small anecdotes and big statements. One anecdote tells of an encounter with a poet friend, who said he was “working on a project where his goal was to go to the local art museum every day for a month and write a poem about a different piece of art each day.”

Lasky was interested because she’s interested in the museum’s art and in poetry, but when she later got to hear him read his work, she found it was all about the project:

Then he read his poems. I did not like them. After the reading, people talked to him about his project and in general, most people liked the idea behind it, as did I. No one talked to him about his poems. His poems were not important to his project. His project was important to his project.

Yes! (This is where my fist tightened and thrust into the air.)

Ironically, as I continued to browse around UDP’s catalog, I found a book called Ten Walks/Two Talks, which I remembered seeing at AWP last month. I was at UDP’s table to admire the sheer beauty of their books (these people are serious about the pleasures of paper and design), and there was an author signing his book. I asked him which book, and he pointed to Ten Walks/Two Talks, and I suppose he described something like this (taken from the back cover):

The book combines a series of sixty-minute, sixty-sentence walks around Manhattan and a pair of dialogues about walking—one of which takes place during a late-night “philosophical” ramble through Central Park.

I picked up the book to be polite and because it was pretty, but all I could think was that the book sounded like it got off on being a project–a dull project, no less.

At the time I didn’t know about Lasky’s book–though it was probably on the table in front of me–but I definitely have a strong reaction against poetry and prose that is merely a project, especially a dull project. (I haven’t read the Two Walks book, so I may be totally wrong here. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.)

But now, as always, I’m going to take another stance. Because I don’t think projects are a bad thing. I don’t think they’re necessarily inorganic.Think Picasso’s Blue Period, Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, Michelangelo’s Prigioni. Think Joyce’s Ulysses. (Think anything by Joyce.) Think Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help. Hell, think Miranda July.

I agree with Lasky that the work needs to be organic, to move “from earth to brain,” but I think that projects can work that way too. These are my first thoughts. I’ll do her the honor of buying her book and reading it before saying anything else, all of which I plan to do.

Maybe it’s because I’m tall that I feel the Call of the Small.

From "Call of the Small" blog

Last week my students made textual assemblages, 3-D found object sculptures inspired by a text–their own or someone else’s. We had a little art exhibit.

We looked at Joseph Cornell‘s shadowboxes and talked about the appeal of creating an entire mini-world, of choosing what goes in, what stays out, what goes where.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Cocatoo and Corks), c. 1948, 14 3/8 x 13 1/2 x 5 5/8 in. Private Collection. © Joseph Cornell/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

This is how short stories, especially short short stories, work. A collection of things, a pleasing order, an enclosed world, mystery.

A Poetics of Prose

April 14, 2010 — 73 Comments

A protagonist is a person made of words.

What can a person made of words say? A person made of words says words and those words are placed, usually, in quotation marks, which are not words but marks of quotation that separate the words the characters make from the words that make the characters.

This is a word. These are all words. Are they characters? Maybe they are a setting.

The story’s setting is also made of words. The setting might be the most beautiful place on earth or the ugliest, but most likely it is someplace in between. The place on earth is not, however, a place at all; the place is words, a palace of words. And even if it is the most beautiful place or palace words can make, it must–for the words to have the proper effect–be the protagonist’s personal hell. Each sentence a gnashing of teeth. Otherwise it’s not a story and has no effect.

The proper effect is made by words but not made of words. It’s utterly wordless.

The story’s ending is made of words, but that is to be expected. Ashes to ashes, words to words.