Friday, January 28, 2011

Poetry Mix Tape: Prose Poems

It's been awhile since I last posted a Mix Tape. If you aren't familiar with the concept, you should check out the earlier incarnations. I think you'll find it satisfactory and self-explanatory. And to make up for the dearth of Mix Tapes, I'll provide you, dear reader, with an super-sized edition for your reading enjoyment.

For this installment, I'm focusing on prose poems. For awhile, I couldn't figure them out. They seem pretty straightforward, but how can something be both prose AND poetry? Silly me. So naive. Since I started exploring them, I've figured out there's so much more to them than meets the eye. It's all in the language, the imagery, the sounds, the rhythm. All that's really missing are line breaks--they are poems through and through. And when they're well written, I find them irresistible. I think it's the prose poems with a "stream of consciousness" feel to them that I'm drawn to the most.

Take "A Supermarket in California," by Allen Ginsberg for example. I'm not a Beat kind of guy. But a prose poem about Walt Whitman? With the word What's not to love? Take a look:
 What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon. 
         In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! 
         What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? 
Read the last two stanzas here and bask in all the psychedelic ramblings that make up this terrific poem.

But wait, it gets better. Ales Debeljak is a Slovenian poet whose following prose poem was published in Naomi Shihab Nye's international anthology This Same Sky:
The sodden moss sinks underfoot when we cross half frozen bays and walk through birch groves, wandering in an uneven circle that widens into darkness, through the minds and bodies of men and animals trapped in last year’s snow - no: trapped from the beginning, emptiness all around us, ice collecting on our pale faces, I can hear you singing on the run, an unknown melody, I can’t make out the words, clouds of breath freeze on your fur collar, eyes open wide as we trudge through silence and weakening starlight, through the fevered babble of children exiled to distant camps, insects, curling up under bark, December or June, no difference
Read the remainder of this beautiful piece here. I think it's all one sentence. And I like that. A lot.

My final sampling reminded me of my 2010 trip to Los Angeles (apparently I'm still obsessed with California). So descriptive and perfectly arranged, Fanny Howe's "Everything's a Fake" starts like this:
Coyote scruff in canyons off Mulholland Drive. Fragrance of sage and rosemary, now it’s spring. At night the mockingbirds ring their warnings of cats coming across the neighborhoods. Like castanets in the palms of a dancer, the palm trees clack. The HOLLYWOOD sign has a white skin of fog across it where erotic canyons hump, moisten, slide, dry up, swell, and shift. They appear impatient—to make such powerful contact with pleasure that they will toss back the entire cover of earth.
You can finish it here.

If you like prose poems as much as I do, allow me to recommend these as well:

Well, I sure have provided a deluge of reading material, haven't I? I hope you're able to take the time to explore these or at least bookmark this page or subscribe via RSS or email or (shameless plug) add me to your blogroll so you can come back and read more when you have time. And if I'm missing one of your favorite prose poems, by all means let me know in the comments.


  1. I haven't learned to love prose poetry yet, but you've given me enough material here to make another go at it! Thanks for continuing my poetry education!

  2. I'm in LA today, any recommendations of poetry here?

    As this is the only poetry I find here... my own.

    In my hotel room in LA.
    Out my window
    I see gang signs, I hear stories of Tuesday nights meth trip, I smell trash with every breath.
    Comfortable only in my dreams.

  3. I wasn't there long enough to delve into the poetry scene. I will say that I found L.A. to be like a different country. And I'm still not sure if I enjoyed it or not. Fanny Howe is right...everything just might be fake there.

    If there was one experience that I found poetic, it was probably the scenery of the Pacific Coast Highway. You can't beat the ocean, in my opinion.

    Oh, and your poem was very good. Thanks for sharing. Reminded me of things I've written before. (You might want to switch hotels, though.)

  4. Thanks for the advice!

    I've always been an oceangirl, have already enjoyed two hours just sitting on the beach and watching the waves roll in.

    Maybe I need to change my perspective of looking for poetry "scenes" and instead create those poetic scenes myself.

  5. As I always say to my students, "Poetry is Everywhere." If you check out the other blog, you'll see that this week we wrote poems about a hat on a roof. A very poetic hat.

    Enjoy finding poems. Keep me posted.