Discussion → Poet and the prose writer

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    Ann Bogle
    Apr 02, 08:30pm

    A second quotation from Mary Karr in her recent The Paris Review interview: "I always say that a poet loves the world, and the prose writer needs to create an alternative world." p. 85

    Do you agree with Karr's view?

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    James Robison
    Apr 02, 10:49pm

    There is no world to love until the writer of prose or verse creates one and that created world may be odious and lethal or a garden of delights, in poetry or prose. Every human inhabits an alternative world, from mine or yours, and the depiction of that world is why I read.

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    David Erlewine
    Apr 03, 12:39am

    Well, I don't love the world and I like creating an alternative world and I always feel like I don't know anything about poetry so maybe this quote works for me but James' comment is pretty cool.

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    Susan Gibb
    Apr 03, 08:06am

    I too would lean towards James' statement rather than that of Mary Karr. A poet, to me, makes lemonade from lemons and that would indicate a general dissatisfaction with reality. A storywriter is free-er to write reality as it is, or as he wishes it to be.

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    Darryl Price
    Apr 03, 08:33am

    Yes of course. It's a truth observed. The problem is just like all truths observed it's only a truth. You need to fit it into the larger picture to get the absolute truth and that takes from what I can tell a lifetime. Still these things add up. Here's a little zen story a friend told me once long ago, something like this:God was going to move the mirror of truth across heaven one day and was looking for the right person for the job when the littlest angel ran up to him and begged to have the honor and opportunity. God being God decided it only fair to let him try plus the kid was really cute. So the littlest angel set about his task with gusto and of course fell and broke the mirror into a billion pieces--all of which fell all over the earth. And to this day people are still picking up little shards and running around and shouting to whomever will listen,"Hey, Look, I found it, I found the truth, I've got the truth here!" You see the problem. It is and it isn't. That's why we need things like forgiveness and compassion and gratitude in our lives just to balance out these many little sharp to cut pieces of so-called truth.

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    James Robison
    Apr 03, 03:55pm

    Also what Ann does mustn't be attempted by others. I can't do what she does, it's too dangerous; she's always crossing borders without papers.

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    Ann Bogle
    Apr 03, 06:44pm

    That reminds me of my statement in a msg. about swimming (flying) v. publishing books, the difference between sea animals/birds and citizens as metaphor. Nominally, I'm a real citizen in the land of my birth, and literally, I'm in the town of my birth in a house full of papers. I quoted Karr because I am really curious about the distinction she perceives between the poet and the prose writer. And it seems clear she feels the poet is more different from prose writers than prose writers are from each other. I don't know if I agree with her idea about poets loving the world and prose writers creating an alternative world. Jim's perception that all poets and writers depict a world and that he reads to perceive multiple realities persuades me as much.

    The answer makes me feel that I did not even think to ask the question. I like to listen to poets read aloud and to read short stories; if I'm in the hands of a master, I'll go the length into novels and be changed by them. I avoid novels by denying myself access to them: a fear of following.

    Darryl! Karr is right, you're suggesting, but it's merely a truth. What a remark! As I mentioned, you are brave to take it on: absolute truth that dwells somewhere beyond honesty, accuracy, and simple truth. I guess I see poets as involved with truth and beauty. Beauty must be poets' fiction.

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    Sam Rasnake
    Apr 03, 07:07pm

    Absolute truth is beyond honesty, accuracy, and simple truth - I agree Ann. Beyond error, possession, mysticism, spirituality, power, knowledge, and language. Words can't get at it. Not even close.

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    Gary Percesepe
    Apr 03, 07:49pm

    i don't know anything about absolute truth and wouldn't trust it.

    i don't know much about poetry either--what i don't know is a lot--but rene char says that a poet has only to be there when the bread comes fresh from the oven.

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    Darryl Price
    Apr 04, 11:36am

    Beauty's a whole 'nother kettle of worms. It always stops us in our tracks but it doesn't always offer solace or even mundane companionship sometimes, although it can't help begrudgingly being a part of everything you are, too.That's the trick. How to enjoy what is ultimately deadly for the thing it is without the need to change it for one's own selfish or greedy ends.The best poetry does this without thinking too much about it and I think the best fiction presents the case for it without taking sides.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Apr 05, 11:38pm

    I tend not to like cut and dry statements so I’ll have to disagree with Karr based on that alone even if I disagree with her in other ways as well. I’d like to say first that another thing I have read is that poets live 4 years less than those who write prose so…I don’t kow what that means either.

    I have also read that introverts write poetry and non-fiction and that extroverts write fiction. That is another one of those generalizations. So many poets I know or know or know of are far from introverted. Many give public readings of their poems incessantly and are very aggressive in terms of their so-called “careers”—I am too new to prose to know if the same is true with writers of prose.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Apr 07, 11:20am

    I did not mean my previous comment to sound negative. I put the quotes around "career" because that is such a difficult thing to measure in the poetry world. What I meant to write is simply that I find it hard to agree with generalized statements. Writers of both poetry and prose are simply individuals who find it fulfilling to write. I think James Robison said this in a much more powerful way.

    I will look for this interview. I only read a portion of it on the internet--I am interested to read the entire piece so that I can understand what she is saying more fully.

    The comments on this thread are very interesting.

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    Finnegan Flawnt
    Apr 08, 12:27pm

    ah, bobbi, "career" is a difficult thing to measure in any world because, whatever anybody may want to make us believe, it is purely within the power and control of the individual to feel like an achiever and like a success. the older i get the more i realise the truth of this and i'm glad, it's a liberating feeling - especially when extended to writing (of poetry or prose).

    i don't agree with james robison's "There is no world to love until the writer of prose or verse creates one". i personally love this particular world we all inhabit. i think it's one of the problems with being part of a virtual writers' community such as fictionaut that we get too invested in our alternate inner worlds and spend too little time smelling and touching each other, which would help me stay grounded.

    as for karr's original quote i don't agree with that either - but i am a disciple of john gardner, who said - for poet and prose writer alike: “The writer who can’t distinguish truth from a peanut butter sandwich can never write good fiction.”

    on that note, i'm now going to make myself a really good peanut butter sandwich.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Apr 08, 11:49pm

    dear ff--how true what you say about being in the world, created or the so-called "real"world of flesh and blood people, trees, existence.

    i agree with james robison for my own personal reasons because my 3 dimensional existence is currently so overwhelming and challenging that i find writing (even for a very short period of time--which is often all i have) to be what gets me through the day--or, rather, helps me feel more complete by the time i go to sleep.

    of course, nothing can replace the flesh and blood interactions i am able to have with people i care about. my actions in the world are most important to me, of course.

    still, i must say, i have always needed to paint or write or make etchings or sculpture or music. it has never been enough for me just to live the "story" i've been given to live without some commentary expressed from my imagination. maybe it is a deep loneliness. i don't know. i'm not particularly proud of the fact that i choose these solitary activities so often above actual events. it's like a dent in me, a defect, a defense mechanism, i guess.

    so true of you to say achievement is an internal mechanism. there is no outside world anyways, don't you think?

    i do not love the world i inhabit. i must invent parts of it. it is a need in me.

    i think it is a blessing to love this world. i especially respect those who love the world in the midst of great struggle and pain.

    i so agree with you re: the virtual world we inhabit.

    i love peanut butter sandwiches as well.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 09, 09:23am

    This brooks with some very key issues in philosophy on perceptions of world, or the lebenswelt/lebensraum. Heidegger would most likely say, for instance, that the we could parse the world somewhat according to Das Mann and Dasein where authentic comportment to the world is Sein zum Tode (the being-towards-death which is Dasein's only true and final possibility).

    That aside, aside...I am always leery of prose and poem distinctions on the nature of world - whether it is active construction or reactive response, since we need not comply with the binary between the two modes. For example, creation and critique can be one and the same action just as painting on canvas both creates and destroys by the same brush stroke.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 10, 06:18am

    ...and, more importantly, a term developed by Deleuze and Guattari in a chapter entitled "From Chaos to the Brain". The artist, according to them, is responsible for regulating a world via blocs of affects (percepts belong to science, concepts to philosophers, although we need not insist on any disciplinary puritanism or partisanship here). By going into that zone or chaotic field, the writer of poetry or prose draws the affects like contours through space, thereby creating a new zone, a chaosmos. A gorgeous term!

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Apr 10, 10:25am

    Kane, I also find these distinctions somewhat, or sometimes very much, artificial. I was writing both poetry and prose yesterday. I took note of my experience with them, due to this discussion. It made no difference. Both forms simply emerged according to the shape of the words appearing in my chaosmos brain.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 10, 11:46am

    Indeed, perhaps they are arbitrary divisions (despite an entire industry and institutional edifice that has sprung up over the centuries trying to parse poetry and prose according to form-specific rules, an associated lexicon, etc). It may be just the pouring of the same liquid into two differently shaped containers.

    Texts like "proems" have already flouted the separation by maintaining some degree of fidelity to poetry's need for pith, and prose's luxury of elaboration without hitting the carriage return every few seconds. Proems, though, put me in mind of the aphorism which can be "poetic", "prosaic" (in the non-pejorative sense), and a conceptually dense field of apothegms, bon mots, and witty epigrams.

    So, like Derrida and the merry band of deconstructionists, I like the term "text" since it covers all the bases...including verbal, social discourse, etc., that are all just part of a "text". As Derrida says, there is nothing outside of the text, and I would add that the divisions we make within the domain of textuality are more for convenient shorthand.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Apr 10, 11:54am

    I am dealing with this in writing prose--I just can't see how it matters. These academic distinctions are time wasters. It's the writing that matters.

    I love the term "proems"--maybe that is what I am doing.

    Have received criticism over not following formulaic fiction. What I answer is I am not writing fiction I am writing non-fiction fiction which a few have compared to poetry--poetry as in "you are still obviously a poet--this is terrible fiction"--and then my reply "but it is not fiction. it is...." etc.

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    eamon byrne
    Apr 12, 05:56pm

    Dipping in here, with fearful toe. One difference between prose and poetry which strikes me as quite huge is the visuality on the page. Think of it this way: writing (or better, text) is a visual art.

    If you take a poem and strip the line feeds, do you not appear to now have a prose text? Perhaps a 'flash fiction'.

    And here is another thing. The flash version of a poem would appear far too overweighted with probably ponderous or sentimental meaning(s). But unflash it, give it back its line endings so that it's returned to its proper visual identity, and the meanings get recontextualised. The text seems no longer sentimental, ponderous, or whatever.

    Why is this? After all, the words have not been changed. Perhaps, because we look at a text under the influence of its layout, its visual cues, we perceive its meaning, its stresses, differently. The visual layout is key.

    In my opinion, this is a large part of why flash fiction is usually unsuccessful. The short prose text needs something to rescue it from its sense of self-importance. This could be simply a wider context, where the short text is one in a related series, or a fragment excised from a larger work. But sometimes the short text just needs to be put into a poetic form. I mean visually.

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