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Archive for February, 2007

Recent thinking on prose poetry has lead me to works in prose that might conveniently be thought of as poetry. An obvious candidate is Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood which I first heard on the radio many years ago, read with the wonderful lilting Welsh accent of Richard Burton. Dylan Thomas was a poet who also wrote plays; not a playwright who also wrote poetry. A less obvious choice, is Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. I claim it for poetry firstly for its symbolism: Trofimov the student tells Anya: ‘Your grandfather…and all your ancestors…owned human souls. Don’t you see that cherry tree in the orchard, from every leaf and every trunk men and women are gazing at you?’ Secondly, I claim it on the grounds of the way Chekhov structured it, beautifully juxtaposing scene upon scene. Finally, I claim it because, like PeerGynt’s onion, it is mainly layered and, like a good poem, it demands revisiting.

So if chiefbiscuit thinks her excellent ‘She’ll be Right’ is a prose poem that’s fine by me. After all I’m still subscribing to John Carey’s definition of art i.e. if just one person thinks it’s art then it is. ‘She’ll be Right’ is a prose poem but my ‘Coming Home’ is just a little packet of prose.

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My prose poem

Recently I’ve been wittering on about prose poetry and now Poetry Thursday has set a prose poem as their completely optional topic. Well, here is my effort; as far as I’m concerned it’s just a little packet of prose.

Coming Home

He stands upright in his small wooden boat, a small man with a long oar, punting towards the shore. He is in his own shadow; the dots of his eyes and the protuberances of his ears just discernible; his face as smooth as a polished wooden ornament. The man, his clothes, the boat, the oar and a jetty are all chocolate brown; behind him the dirty lime green sky and water merge at the horizon. It is dusk and the sun is a rose coloured disk that casts its beam of pink light across the water. All around is stillness; even the ripples created by the oar hardly disturb the water. The man is returning home after visiting sick relatives on the other side of the river. He has been away for two days. As he comes nearer to the shore I see that he is not a man at all: he is just a boy; a boy with fair hair under the brown beret. Standing on the jetty are two fishermen. They have been watching him since he appeared as a speck in the dusky light; they are his brothers. As they watch they talk of their mother’s fear that he would not return. The boy places his oar in the water for the last time, sliding silently to rest at the side of the jetty. Two bundles on the side of his boat slip noiselessly into the water.

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The Fountain

This is quite an old poem where I was using Eliot’s La Figlia Che Piange as a model.


Crushed petals fall on a cushion of air
to be carried away by the biting wind.
All she can do is stand and stare
knots of bitterness in her hair
shadows surround softly sighing.

Love plunged in a fountain one hot afternoon
watched by cruel, silent eyes.
Ice formed on the water all too soon;
winter winds upstaging June
a chorus of chimera crying.

A delicate bloom: cut, pressed and dried;
Once violent emotion now petrified.


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The noises of poetry

Words move, music moves
Only in time.
[T S Eliot in ‘Four Quartets’]

In his Nobel Lecture ‘Crediting Poetry’ Seamus Heaney talked about his effort to make poems sound right; his ‘straining towards a strain……a musically satisfying order of sound’. Heaney was probably influenced by T S Eliot and his theory of the ‘auditory imagination’. According to this theory meaning is secondary to sounds and rhythms and these noises of poetry penetrate below consciousness invigorating every word. Both these poets were concerned with the question ‘What good is poetry?’, writing in the context of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland (Heaney) and the Second World War (Eliot) which is why they crop up in John Carey’s book What Good are the Arts?
The idea of an ‘auditory imagination’ has a strong appeal to me both as a reader of poetry and someone who attempts to write in this genre. I can’t prove it scientifically but when I read some poems they evoke a response that is over and above, beyond, beneath (or wherever) the words on the page. Not surprisingly these poems include several of Eliot’s: parts of his ‘Four Quartets’, ‘The Hollow Men’, ‘La Figlia Che Piange’ and ‘Preludes’ to name but a few. I don’t make any extravagant claims as to the source of this experience but it is bound up with my passion for poetry and my preferences for one poet over another. My first readings of Robert Frost’s ‘Two Roads’ and Derek Mahon’s ‘Leaves’ were ‘Eureka’ moments. Neither do I claim to be anywhere near the same league as Heaney as a poet, but I know just what he means about straining towards ‘a musically satisfying order of sounds’; it’s what I am seeking when I craft a poem and I know the rare occasions I’ve found it.

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