Prosepoempalooza: A Celebration of Diversity located Within the Prose Poem is the title of my graduating craft seminar I taught yesterday. I’ve been studying the prose poem for about a year-and-a-half. I am far from an expert. I don’t even know there is such a thing. But I felt comfortable teaching the class. I was a bit nervous at first, but I’ve been teaching for a while, so that subsided once I started teaching. Claudia Rankine sat in on my class. She was my first mentor art Queens, so I wanted to do an extra-good job. I think I accomplished that. The subtitle of my seminar was, “How do you know when you’re writing a prose poem.” I focused on three elements (of several) that prose poems possess: the surreal, deadpan tone, and circular narrative. I started the class by asking the students to write down their definitions of a prose poem. Then I had them share their responses with the person next to them, and then volunteers shared with the class. After each student read their definitions, I read them a “safe” definition followed by two that’s “was’sup” definitions. I went on to say I prefer the second definitions because through their metaphorical speaketh, they provide the essence of what a prose poem actually is. I mentioned how the prose poem is often confused with flash-fiction and poetic prose. I also mentioned how the prose poem is getting a bad rap these days because writing that is difficult to classify is often incorrectly labeled prose poetry. I told the class I don’t like to categorize my writing. I simply try to write the strongest piece possible. After each element I asked guiding questions, so the seminar wasn’t merely a lecture. I wanted to get as many people involved as possible. I think I succeeded. The room was, literally, full; 30 people showed up. Yes, I counted. Many of them are friends, but it was nice to see people I didn’t know show up. It was actually fun, but I’m glad it’s over. My thesis reading is Thursday night. I’ll be reading from my prose poem manuscript, When Kerosene’s Involved, forthcoming this year from Black Coffee Press (plug plug). I’m looking forward to it, the reading and the publication of my manuscript, When Kerosene’s Involved, forthcoming from Black Coffee Press (plug plug).
Here are the poems I used in my seminar:
From The World Doesn’t End
Ghost stories written as algebraic equations.
Little Emily at the blackboard is very frightened.
The X’s look like a graveyard at night. The teacher
wants her to poke among them with a piece of
chalk. All the children hold their breath. The white
chalk squeaks once among the plus and minus
signs, and then it’s quiet again.
The barber has accidentally taken off an ear. It lies like
something newborn on the floor in a nest of hair.
Oops, says the barber, but it musn’t’ve been a very good
ear, it came off with very little complaint.
It wasn’t, says the customer, it was always overly waxed.
I tried putting a wick in it to burn out the wax, thus to find my
way to music. But lighting it I put my whole head on fire. It
even spread to my groin and underarms and to a nearby
forest. I felt like a saint. Someone thought I was a genius.
That’s comforting, say the barber, still, I can’t send you
home with only one ear. I’ll have to remove the other one. But
don’t worry, it’ll be an accident.
Symmetry demands it. But make sure it’s an accident, I
don’t want you cutting me up on purpose.
Maybe I’ll just slit your throat.
But it has to be an accident . . .
From Angle of Yaw
The predictability of these rooms is, in a word, exquisite. These rooms
in a word. The moon is predictably exquisite, as is the view of the moon
through the word. Nevertheless, we were hoping for less. Less space,
less light. We were hoping to pay more, to be made to pay in public.
We desire a flat, affected tone. A beware of dog on keep off grass.
The glass ceiling is exquisite. Is it made of glass? No, glass.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Here comes the woman who never looks up with the one little girl
riding her hip in a shawl and one slinking alongside. The man
who fathered these babies is hard to find. He is usually sleeping
with the woman he loved before this one who doesn’t feel bad
about it because she had him first. He is ugly but creative. He
has designed buildings in town no one wants to enter because
they feel heavy. The first woman says he will marry the second
one sooner or later and that will be fine with her. If he says it is
time. When the little girls ride a carnival car at La Feria they
grip the steering wheel tightly and don’t wave. All the other
children circle round and round, smiling as the tiny breeze
ruffles their hair. They are going on long trips, they say. But
these two look grim as if they are staying in one place.
My father died at the age of eighty. One of the last things he did in his life was to call his fifty-eight-year-old son-in-law “honey”. One afternoon in the early 1930’s, when I bloodied my head by pitching over a wall at the bottom of a hill and believed that the mere sight of my own blood was the tragic meaning of life, I heard my father offer to murder his future son-in-law. His son-in-law is my brother-in-law, whose name is Paul. These two grown men rose above me and knew that a human life is murder. They weren’t fighting about Paul’s love for my sister. They were fighting each other because one strong man, a factory worker, was laid off from his work, and the other strong men, the driver of a coal truck, was laid off from his work. They were both determined to live their lives, and so they glared at each other and said they were going to live, come hell or high water. High water is not trite in southern Ohio. Nothing is trite along a river. My father died a good death. To die a good death means to live one’s life. I don’t say a good life.
I say a life.
I take the snap from center, fake to the right, fade back … I’ve got protection. I’ve got a receiver open downfield… What the hell is this? This isn’t football, it’s a shoe, a man’s brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air. I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they weren’t very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities, one has to make choices. This isn’t right and I’m not going to throw it.