The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Prose Poem That Wasn’t

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Third Wednesday arrived two weeks ago.  This is the third time I’ve said this in the past few years.  Seems that the editors over there “get me,” which is an egotistical writer’s way of saying I’ve found a literary publication that deems my work publishable, enough so to put me up for a third time.  Yay me! Every writer has to find their audience. I guess Third Wednesday and their readership is my audience.  Or maybe it’s more the case that they’re saying my writing is their flavor.  I appreciate that. I see TW as a grass-roots, blue-collar poet’s venue, and I’d team up with such folks any time.

The only thing is that I sort of backward-assed my way into TW both last year and this year.  As I described herein, I landed second place in their George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction contest last year.  I did it with what was essentially a prose poem and had always been a prose poem, but it had a narrative element to it and had never really happened in my life.  No problem. Call it flash fiction. I’ll take what recognition I can get. I entered the same contest this year with “Thinking of You,” but no dice for recognition.  It came to me as a poem I’d worked on two years ago but that I couldn’t get to go anywhere, so I converted it into a prose poem thinking that it might work well for the flash fiction contest and ol’ Jeff Burd could walk away with another prize.

Nope.  Instead, one of the editors got back to me and said, “Nuh-uh.  But we like this as a prose poem. Can we publish it like that?”  Hells yeah, bro! I’m not going to pass up the chance to get published!

The problem with “Thinking of You” being a poem in the first place was that maybe it wasn’t “refined” enough.  Puke. Or maybe it didn’t do enough “poetic things” like subvert expectations. There wasn’t enough eloquent sound devices evident (prosody, dontcha know?).  Perhaps it didn’t make deft use of metaphor.  It didn’t change the way the reader views something.  I’ll argue with you on at least two of those counts. I think I’ve got a helluva extended metaphor operating here, and some good sound devices at the start and in the “climax.”  You tell me. Here’s what it used to look like.

Thinking of You
The surface of the silent pond
in the middle of the pines mirrors
the blue sky but for mayflies jetting
back and forth.  Algae breathes
in the shallows along the banks.
A drake unfolds a shimmering caret
behind himself as he skims across
the idyllic pool.  He arcs to his left,
and then his honk like a trumpet blast
rips across the water.  He flaps and flails
as he lurches skyward, but a snapper
locked on his leg pulls him down.
Shrieks born of mortal combat echo
off the trees until the drake goes down
in a flurry of splashes and bubbles.

One thing that was wrong with it, as pointed out by poetic partner extraordinaire Barbara Bennett, is that it wasn’t obvious who the narrator is.  What side is he on? Is he the drake or the snapper? Seems like an odd existential query, and one I’ll wager Camus never posed. Or Sartre, that lazy bastard.  I’ve never considered myself to be neither a drake nor a snapper. Maybe that surprises you because my last name is Burd and obviously I’d be the drake (duh). But maybe you’re just a wiseass like me who likes to pun upon his own last name.  And maybe I’m not the narrator and maybe this isn’t a lyric poem. But maybe it is.

No matter.  I put the poem away for a while because I was tired of working on it.  Also, I remembered a hard lesson I learned long ago: You don’t have to squeeze blood out of every turnip.  For fuck sake, just practice writing sometimes and let it be. In the least, you’ll be better off for the practice.  But then I stumbled upon it ‘round ‘bout the time Third Wednesday announced their flash fiction contest again last spring.  I decided to get it out and rework it, especially bearing in mind what Barbara said.  Taking the line breaks out made it a prose poem, and possibly a flash fiction according to how TW views the concept.  Whatever I did must have worked in one way or another because I have another published piece that I’m happy with.  Wanna see the final piece? Private Message me on Facebook or reply with a comment to this post, and I’ll get you your own copy of it. Otherwise, I’d be undercutting TW by putting it up here, and I don’t want to do that because they like me.  They really like me!

This is all getting to a discussion of genre.  Does it matter if a piece is a play, an essay, a piece of fiction, a poem?  Yes. Without doubt it matters. But it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as some high-minded elbow-patch academic will tell you it does as he looks at you over the tops of his reading frames and through a cloud of Captain Black.  Hell, a lot of them would tell you there’s no such thing as a prose poem. A piece is either prose or it’s verse. There is no hybridization of the two. Bullshit there isn’t. A lot of those same people probably believe in eugenics, too. Just know that poetry dominates everything.  As an Advanced Placement teacher friend of mine told me years ago, once you get poetry, you get everything in writing. Furthermore, it’s a good idea that whatever you write, write it as if it’s poetry. Make use of all those elements. Combine that with some other advice from last year’s George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest judge Philip Sterling, and you could be onto something.  He said:  Just concern yourself with the integrity of the individual work.

Finally, I almost forgot to mention.  This issue of Third Wednesday also features a poem by Ted Kooser.  Good job, Ted! It’s nice for you to get some recognition and for others to realize your poems are good enough to appear alongside mine!  Many of us have been watching your career unfold for some time now, and have been hoping you’d come along. We’re so proud of your development.  Keep it up, old sport.


Written by seeker70

October 17, 2018 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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