Tuesday, July 29, 2014

30/30 Project, Day 29: When Prose Turns Poetry

One more day to go on the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry marathon. One more poem to write. As usual, I have no idea what it will be.
      But chances are, it won’t be like yesterday’s poem. One thing I’ve noticed while writing a poem every day this month is how much I like variety. Or hate sameness. To keep the writing marathon from feeling like drudgery, I had to mix things up a lot—I wrote not just narrative and lyric poems, but also sentence-based ones, fragmented ones, songs, kit-bash nursery rhymes, long lines, short lines, real and imagined pasts, unvarnished and hyper presents.

Prose me
One thing I especially wanted to write this month was prose poems—I love those when they’re done well, and I perversely enjoy the fact that not everyone considers them poetry. I’d forgotten about prose poems until a couple of nights ago, when an opening line started to feel like a prose/poetry hybrid: “The sky’s burnt blue and the car jerks like a popcorn popper.” Suddenly I remembered, Oh, prose poem!, put down my notebook, and grabbed the little Logitech bluetooth keyboard that talks to my iPad. Usually I write poetry longhand because I like the lag time between when the words form in my head and when my hand writes them down; it gives me a micromoment to do a first edit. But prose comes out of my head faster than poetry, so I tend to write it on a keyboard because I can type much faster than I can write. And it turns out that works well for prose poems too.
      After writing that prose poem, I was hungry for more. So last night, when I decided to write about a relationship that’s always felt like one of those paranormal tourist traps (Mystery Spot, Oregon Vortex, Confusion Hill) where water supposedly runs uphill and the laws of physics don’t apply, it felt like it wanted to be another prose poem. So I wrote it that way—on the little keyboard, in one continuous paragraph. As usual, I tinkered with it a while, then e-mailed it to myself to take another pass through it in the morning before sending it off to the nice Tupelo 30/30 people.

Break me
But overnight, during a humid and restless sleep, I kept breaking that prose poem into lines. So this morning, when it was time to polish it up and send it off, I tried it three different ways—as the prose poem I’d envisioned, as a square-built sonnet (which it naturally flowed into when I pulled in the margins a little), and then as a skinnier poem with shorter lines and many line breaks. Interestingly, the one with all the line breaks triggered a more rigorous revision process. I could see which lines needed punching up when I broke them down into pieces—the weak phrases stuck up like cowlicks, where in the prose poem, they could hide a little more in the long lines. So I made some revisions and then took out all the line breaks to turn it back into a prose poem—and I didn’t like it as much as that way. So I put the line breaks back in and sent it off.
      So now I wonder if a useful process might be to compose poems more often on the keyboard in a block of paragraph text first, and add the line breaks later. I’m sure some poets work this way all the time, but I’ve never tried it. I liked the way it felt with this poem, as if I were running it through two different filters—a passionate one first, then a painstaking one.
      Another useful tidbit learned from this poetry marathon, and something to try again later.

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