of a prose poem at Every Day Poets today is in part due to the fact that we so rarely receive really good prose poems. So let me tell you why this got in as so many fail to do.
Many seem to think that a prose poem has to be narrative by virtue of the fact that it is prose. Not true. As you see in Bill’s poem, the stucturing is linear but it is more of a flow of conciousness than a story. He begins with a question which he anwers at the end but in between he paints a picture of all the things that are special about a home. The details draw us into the photograph, a rather idyllic scene of family life. There we have everyday sights and sounds, there is movement in the child at play and the cat playing tricks, there are sights and sounds. But there is some sense of danger in the poem – little dangers that a parent would want to protect a child from:
“the bee close to the freckled nose and alarmed eyes,”
And there is a sense too in “tomorrows marbles” that tomorrow is something we cannot grasp.
The photograph is a snapshot of the past – a time that has gone. The title has already suggested something is missing. Is something missing from the photograph? The photograph is described to us by a series of negatives. All the things that aren’t missing including that giant parental finger – that control on the button. It’s as if life can be captured permenantly by that hand, that eye of love. Look how big Bill makes that hand appear:
“my giant finger, a crooked blur across sky”
as it were the hand of God. But it’s not. For all this vast love cannot garantee the future and in the end we have that idyl shattered. The home;
“a sheltering shadow, door wide like a heart pumped full and bursting”
is not the shelter it seemed. And so we come to what is missing: “just you.” Just the most important thing of all… A heartbreaking understatement.
We choose poems to be viewed by readers from all over the world 365 a year. It’s a tall order. In the case of this poem we thought it had that universal appeal we seek but it had more than that. As you have seen the conent has been most carefully chosen and in a moment I will talk about language and structure… But a family snapshot, love, protection, play, sorrow and above all that sense that we are none of us in control of our destiny or that of those we love, makes this of irresistable appeal to any member of the human family.
Sound: Try reading Bill’s poem aloud. Let the sounds roll over your tongue and pay attention to hard and soft sounds and to alliteration and also the the internal rhythms he has created. You get to the part where he describes play and he gives you this long phrase that will leave you out of breath – just like play…
“nor the cat poised in the tree to snatch my hat when I pass beneath the bough when I leap to chase my howling son till moon-time,”
a whacking great 25 syllables!
moon-time not night. Try replacing it with the word night and see how flat it falls. The two syllables elongate it to 25 and that is a perfect number ofr English intonation – 5’s and 10’s. Interesting that the French used Alexandrines (12 beats) in their poetry while the Engish classics used iambic pentameter.
That line has the mark of a master word craftsman upon it.
Repetition is something the at is easily overdone in poetry and where a poem has stanzas and line breaks to stucture it, repetition should really only be used for emphasis and not as structure. However in a prose poem, there has to be some structure – more structure in fact than in a story which relies on plot and apargraphs. Here Bill has used only one sentence to express his thought. It is a sentence tht asks and answers itself and that bookend gives a structure too but Bill has also used that series of omissions to hang the poem on, frame the picture, if you will. But he has done this in such a way that it is varied and so unnintrusive within the piece. He has not used it to begin every clause and it varies throughout in this way:
not the sun
nor the bee
nor my giant finger
nor the cat
and not our house
There are ten adjectives in the piece but they all add something. That giant finger is so importand for example and the flowers are “drooping” – dying… See how he uses alliteration and a wonderful metaphor for love in his description of the house.
“our house, a sheltering shadow, door wide like a heart pumped full”
So intimate and soft and so very protecive that that final reveal hits you like a thud right in the chest – well it did me! Brought a tear to the editorial eye. In fact it does every time I read it.
So why a prose poem? Well it’s the perfect form for this and in fact Bill sent us two versions. The other version had some breaks in it. It used standard punctuation. It wasn’t all of a piece like the one we decided to publish. The reason we chose this version was simply because it is one unbroken thought and we thought that it was much stronger. You want to sweep the reader along to that inevitable denouement. Breaks in a poem give pause for thought. This doen’t need that. You get swept into that picture, that life, the family scene, the ideal and then PUNCH it all ends very quickly like the moment in time it is and as allo moments must. Hold on tight Bill is saying. This moment is all there may be.
So dear writer, if you want to send us a prose poem, those are some of the qualities we look for. Give it some thought. Never send us your first draft.
Content: What am I saying? We like deep levels of meaning.
Audience: Is this right for EDP? Does it have wide appeal?
Language: Have I honed this down and used just the right words?
Layout: Would this be better with stanzas, punctuation etc. Does the form fit the subject?