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Tony Grist

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Poetry V Prose [Oct. 26th, 2004|10:29 am]
Tony Grist
choriamb is conducting an enquiry into the nature of poetry.

It was easier in the good old days. If a piece of writing had metre and rhyme and things like that it was obviously a poem.

But even then there were people like Blake and Whitman who said they were writing poems while discarding most of poetry's identifying marks.

My rule of thumb is "if the writer says it's a poem then that's what it is."

But calling it a poem doesn't necessarily mean that it's any good. Most poetry is bad.

Virginia Woolf was clearly exercised by the problem. A relative asked her why she didn't write poems and she said she found prose rhythms more interesting and challenging.

But I'm sure there were times when she wondered if she wasn't a poet after all.

The Waves (which I'm reading at the moment)is a long prose poem. It has the density, the verbal sprightliness we associate with poetry. It aims for beauty.

She pursues the debate in the book. Bernard is a novelist; he knows a lot of things but his vision is fuzzy. Louis and Neville are poets; they know fewer things than Bernard but their vision is sharp. Can we derive a universal law from this perception? I doubt it.

According to Woolf's law, Browning would be reclassified as a novelist. This is suggestive, but I don't see that it gets us very far.

At the beginning of his Oxford Book of English Verse (published in the early 1930s) W.B. Yeats printed a piece of prose by Walter Pater as if it were verse. It was a turning point. A recognition that the old distinctions had become meaningless.

Poetry is dead. Prose is dead. From now on there is only Writing.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-10-26 10:43 am (UTC)
Isn't one of the qualities of poetry that it points a finger at itself saying, "Look; I am language!", whereas prose, in its conventional form, tends to point at its subject-matter? Just a thought. (And not original, I know.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-26 10:52 am (UTC)
A lyric by Shelley is obviously poetry
The Post Office Guide To Your Card Account (which I have in front of me) is obviously prose.

But there's lots of stuff in the middle that's much harder to classify. Joyce is prose but he's all about language. And then there are all those 18th century treatises on this and that which happen to be written in verse. 19th century critics used to argue that Pope wasn't a poet because he wasn't "warbling his native woodnotes wild"- but that's plainly ridiculous.
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From: archyena
2004-10-26 11:04 am (UTC)
I'd wager that the difference between poetry and prose is that poetry still makes sense after half a bottle of vodka.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-26 11:41 am (UTC)
Alternatively it's a poem if it only makes sense after half a bottle of vodka.
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From: archyena
2004-10-26 12:30 pm (UTC)
Yes yes!!! Drink some, was brandy or bourbon your favorite, and read the Lorem Ipsum.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-26 12:47 pm (UTC)
Mine's a bourbon.

You mean it will suddenly make sense after half a bottle?

craftyailz was asking me to explain it
just now- and I'm afraid I couldn't.
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From: archyena
2004-10-26 03:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not guaranteeing it, there may be a need to channel the damned as well, but we're still working out the bugs, all I can seem to get is re-runs of Mary Tyler Moore.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-26 04:48 pm (UTC)
My rule of thumb is "if the writer says it's a poem then that's what it is."

But calling it a poem doesn't necessarily mean that it's any good. Most poetry is bad.


It's true that "most poetry is bad," but sometimes I like it, anyway.

Some rock music has beautiful poetry.

Here's a new lyric from "Shall We Dance?" (Peter Gabriel wrote this, and I like it, and think it's sort of good poetry):

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
and instructions for dancing

But I
love it when you read to me
And you
can read me anything.

The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb.

But I
love it when you sing to me
And you
can sing me anything.

The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we're all too young to know.

But I
love it when you give me things
And you
ought to give me wedding rings.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-26 05:41 pm (UTC)
That's nice. I like how it's written with a shrug. Romantic while affecting to be unromantic.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-26 06:07 pm (UTC)
On paper, it's not as interesting or poetic as the music and Peter Gabriel's torn-up voice.
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[User Picture]From: kaysho
2004-10-26 05:39 pm (UTC)
In elementary school, one of our teachers asked us to say what poetry was. I replied, "It's writing where the lines stop before they reach the edge of the paper." She said that worked well enough. :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-26 05:44 pm (UTC)
It's as good a definition as any.

Even so there are poems- I can think of one by T.S. Eliot- that aren't covered by it.
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