Thursday May 23, 2013
Defining what makes a poem a poem is no easy thing, and if you’re not theoretically inclined, you may find yourself ending the discussion with a simple statement, “I know one when I see it.” Poetry is commonly defined by distinguishing it from prose: On the page, a poem has lines of different lengths, and the line breaks are chosen by the poet, while the visual shape of a passage of prose is determined by the typography and the size of the page. Prose is constructed from sentences and paragraphs which fill a page or column, while a poem is made from lines and stanzas, and the white space between them (or the pauses or silence, if you’re hearing the poem) is part of the poem, as rests or hesitations are part of any musical composition.
Then we come to the prose poem. It looks like ordinary prose, it may be divided into paragraphs but you would not call them stanzas, and deliberately placed line breaks are nowhere to be found. But the poet calls it a poem. We’ve put together a collection of classic English and American prose poems from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and we invite you to dip into this anthology and tell us what you think makes a prose poem a poem.
Oscar Wilde named his 1894 collection Poems in Prose, but just what is it that makes his parable “The Artist” into a poem? The paragraph-like passages in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons are certainly not narrative stories—do their echoes and rhythms and repetitions make them poems? Amy Lowell’s lovely “Spring Day” looks at first glance like a series of prose paragraphs, but its use of language certainly feels like an Imagist poem. Coming at the issue from the other side of the prose-poetry divide, consider Carl Sandburg’s “Wilderness,” a poem that unlike many prose poems does not try to disguise itself as prose, but simply substitutes ellipses for line breaks. And what to make of William Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell “improvisations,” so unlike the short-lined poems for which he is best known?
To continue exploring the inter-genre world of prose poetry, we’d like to add some contemporary prose poems to our collection. Poet-readers, we invite you to submit your own prose poems to be considered for the contemporary section of our anthology.
Wednesday May 22, 2013
Is the line-break the defining element in a poem? Can poems be poured onto electronic screens without violating the sanctity of the line? How can we be sure the poet’s artistic choices are preserved when poems migrate from the printed page to digital media? These questions have been hovering in the world of online poetry since the beginning of the digital age (see our previous postings on these topics listed below)—and while they are certainly not settled issues, at least some of the major poetry publishers have begun to work towards practical answers, translating poetry books into electronic format.
from Associated Press:
“Poetry Finally Joining E-book Revolution,” by Hillel Italie
“The problem had been how to transfer a poem from paper to screen without either breaking a line up—a primal violation of the art form—or making the font size too small to read. It’s unlikely that publishers can design a perfect solution, but they have managed to find acceptable compromises. In part, they credit advances in technology that make it easier to keep the original look intact. They also cite a technique long used in print.... The hanging indent.” [Guide note: The funny thing is, news stories online don’t use the hanging indent, so the example that follows, showing its use in the iPad version of a Sharon Olds poem, is invisible.]
Past Postings on Poetry’s Migration to Electronic Screens:
“iPad Poetry: It’s the Real Deal” (2012)
“Poems Mangled in the Move from Page to Screen” (2010)
“Misprints—Are They Serendipity, Inspiration or Embarrassment?” (2008)
“Typos Are Like Viruses.... They Replicate on the Net” (2007)
Thursday May 16, 2013
When this Web site was new, back in 1997, we published an article on poem phone phenomena around the U.S., cataloguing the local phone lines devoted to putting poems in people’s ears. A few years later, most of those phone lines were dead. But there’s something special about the private experience of listening to a poem read to you on the telephone—and we wonder if that experience can be replicated on the Internet.
John Giorno originated the Dial-a-Poem concept in New York in 1969—his 10 phone lines offered recordings by people like Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, Ted Berrigan, William Burroughs, Anne Waldman and Diane di Prima. Many of the Giorno Poetry Systems recordings now reside online at UbuWeb Sound.
In 2009, Kelly Writers House created a Dial-a-Poem phone line using recordings from its PennSound archives. Does anyone know if this phone number still works?
In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art revived Dial-a-Poem for its “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language” exhibition. You could call 347-POET001 (a local New York City number) to hear poems the old-fashioned way, on the telephone, or visit MOMA’s Dial-a-Poem Web site to play a poem online.
What do you think, folks? Does filling your ears with a poem from an online audio archive recreate the intimate experience of hearing a poem read to you on a telephone receiver? Or are we just indulging in misplaced nostalgia? If you know about any currently working Dial-a-Poem numbers, please, please, come back and tell us about them by commenting below.
Thursday May 9, 2013
Here at About.com Poetry, we’re immersed in classic poems that compress history and link us to the experiences and understandings of the poets of many past times. Still, every so often lately I look up from my computer screen and find myself thinking, “We’ve lived into the future”—where speculation leaks into real life, and science fiction becomes everyday reality. And there are poems here, too, in the borderlands between science and science fiction.
Last week, NASA announced a campaign to gather haiku to go to Mars on the MAVEN (“Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission”) spacecraft, launching this November. MAVEN is intended to study the loss of Mars’ atmosphere and water, opening a scientific window into the red planet’s climate history and its ability to support life in the past. As it has with other recent missions, NASA is seeking to generate public interest by asking people to sign up and send their names into space—more than 1.2 million names already went to Mars on the Curiosity rover. But this time they are also collecting haiku poems, putting them up for a public vote, and sending the top three to Mars along with the names of everyone who submitted a poem. So, poets, get to it! Write a haiku for Mars, and send it in.
There are also poems that live in we might call “SciFi” land—deeper into the realm of speculation. Here’s a recent sampling:
- Les Murray’s New Yorker poem “Science Fiction,” perfectly capturing the timeslip sensation of having lived into the future
- The Science Fiction Poetry Association, founded in 1978 by Suzette Haden Elgin to bring together readers and writers of scifi poetry, and its quarterly Star*Line, where you can read editor’s choice poems from past issues online
- Suzette Haden Elgin’s essay, “About Science Fiction Poetry,” illustrated with two of her poems, “Brochure From the Intensive Care Ward: 2081” and “Psalm To a Higher Power”
- Isaac Asimov’s editorial on poetry, explaining why Asimov’s Science Fiction publishes mostly light, rhymed verse
- SciFaiku— scifi poems in haiku form
- Rebecca Ariel Porte’s io9 survey of contemporary poetry recommended for scifi readers who “want to get [their] feet wet in the world of poetry,” “The Best Books of Poetry For Every Kind of Science Fiction Fan,” as well as her list of “Ten Great Scifi Poems.”
Our question to you, dear Readers: What have you found at the intersection of poetry and science fiction? Comments, and haiku, welcome below.
Our past postings on poetry and science:
Scientific Poetry, Poetic Science
The Scientist in Emily Dickinson
Mind Expansion: Pairing Poets and Scientists