Always the Beautiful Answer - Prose Poem Primer, edited by Ruth Kempher
Poet Peter Klappert's Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, Six Gallery Press,Pittsburgh, PA, 2008.
My friend Peter Klappert sends a copy of his new (poetry) book PLUS Ruth Kempher's Always the Beautiful Answer: A Prose Poem Primer (the anthology was first published in 1999 and is now back in print). Ruth Kempher begins with a definition, a way of distinguishing between prose and poetry. Dictionary says:
PROSE, n. 1. Speech or writing without metrical structure: distinguished from verse. 2. Commonplace or tedious discourse.
POEM, n. 1. A Composition in verse, characterized by the imaginative treatment of experience and a condensed use of language that is more vivid and intense than ordinary prose... any composition characterized by intensity and beauty of language or thought: a prose poem.
For some reason I have this flashback... I'm right out of highschool, age 19 and serving in the U.S. Navy (LST 914) in the combat zone in Korea (c. 1952). And I had just began writing... something... and reading everything I could find in the ship's library. In fact, I was ship's librarian... anyway Ruth Kempher includes Carl Sandburg's Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry, which I read in 1952 and haven't much looked at since. Now it all comes back... vividly, stuff that helped tease me into wanting to write. And I still remember some of Carl Sandburg's definitions of poetry. They're fairly abstract, fairly "heady," especially when you contrast Sandburg's definitions of poetry with his own fairly gritty verses about Chicago, my hometown.
1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.
2. Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.
3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, 'Listen!' and 'Did you see it?' 'Did you hear it? What was it?'
The Prose Poem Primer includes Charles Baudelaire's poems "The Stranger," "The Soup and the Clouds" and the editor's note, "The prose poem began as a conscious form in nineteenth century France, pioneered by Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire. The form represented a kind of reaction against the strict poetic dictates of the French Academy..." well, lots of interesting stuff... too much for a blog entry.
But just wanted to mention Michael Hathaway's contribution to the Prose Poem Primer, "Ode to Grandpa Hathaway," an especially good poem about a poet and editor I happened to know in the mid-1960s when I was teaching at Cornell and serving on Prof. William Hathaway's literary magazine, EPOCH. Michael Hathaway's poem about his grandpa satisfies all 3 of Carl Sandburg's definitions (above).
Anyway, I send thanks to Peter Klappert, whose new book Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, I turn to next.
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