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Passions in Poetry

Prose and Poetry

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Brad
Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


0 posted 02-24-2000 02:53 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

This is something that has come up a few times even on my own stuff. What is the difference between prose and poetry?  I argue that it is the line break. Yeah, it's that simple but that simple distinction makes you see a piece of writing in a very different way. Anybody else have an idea?

Brad

PS Have you ever felt like your Kevin Costner in an alternate universe.


jbouder
Member Elite
since 09-18-99
Posts 2641
Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash


1 posted 02-24-2000 11:21 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

"We
The people
In order to
Form
A more perfect
Union
Establish justice
Ensure domestic tranquility
Provide For the common defense
Promote the general welfare
And
Secure the blessings of liberty
For ourselves and our
Posterity
Do ordain and establish
This Constitution
Of
The United States of America"

Bad poetry or good prose?  Can it be as simple as the line breaks?

P.S. Never Kevin Costner but I once had a dream that I was Grace Jones in "Conan the Destroyer".



 Jim

"If I rest, I rust."  - Martin Luther



[This message has been edited by jbouder (edited 02-24-2000).]
Poertree
Senior Member
since 11-05-1999
Posts 1413
UK


2 posted 02-25-2000 01:09 PM       View Profile for Poertree   Email Poertree   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Poertree

Brad ... well really it took ya .. lets see ... about 3 months to answer my question and you come up with:

"its the line break" ...!!!

are you serious?

P

PS and yes Jim I am being "serious"
Brad
Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


3 posted 02-25-2000 06:24 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Guys,
What's so simple about the line break? When you read a piece of prose, you don't have that added pause.  Prose can have rhythm, it can use every single technique that poetry uses (including rhyme) and as Ron has argued, poets should learn the are to writing fiction as well (okay, we both do). For a number of historical reasons, the two arose into separate and arbitrary categories but nevertheless are, more or less, distinct. When you see a line break, you read something differently from without it.  This perception is the key.

Samuel Delaney has argued that when you read Science Fiction as opposed to mainstream fiction, you read it differently.

Something like "I drove my Beetle home" in science fiction (I prefer the more general term of fabulism) can mean any of a number of things whereas it is fairly limited in mainstream, 'realistic' stuff. Without a context, you start reading a fabulist novel not really knowing what that sentence means until it has been directly or indirectly explained to you. If you know the book is "science fiction", you know you don't know. If it's mainstream, you're pretty sure it's a Volkswagon.  It's the same sentence but your perception of it changes.

Poetry is the same. When you see that line break, you see the poem as a poem and think in terms of your own biases, your own personal history, of what a poem SHOULD be. If the piece doesn't satisfy those expectations, you question its 'poeticness'.  Given the variety of poetry out there, what other explanation could there be? I'm listening.

There are a number of books out there that do the same trick that you did, Jim, to show that that is exactly the difference. If it has a line break, if it doesn't run together, you, the reader, read differently than if it were prose.

Brad
Marilyn
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since 09-26-1999
Posts 2646
Ontario, Canada


4 posted 02-27-2000 12:41 PM       View Profile for Marilyn   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Marilyn

I have to agree with Brad on this one. (oh NO!!!!!!!) Prose also needs to have a meter to it. In order to hold a reader you need to have a gripping plot line as well as smooth flow to your writing. Nothing irritates a reader more then tripping over sentices and punctuation, which makes something difficult to read.
jbouder
Member Elite
since 09-18-99
Posts 2641
Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash


5 posted 02-28-2000 12:42 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

Okay, I see you point (or at least I am beginning to) but while line-breaks certainly cause you to read a formerly prosaic paragraph differently I cannot believe that line-breaks alone tranform a piece of prose into poetry when punctuation can have much of the same effects as line breaks.  

Free-verse is certainly a valid form of poetry (I would never argue that it is not) but not all writing labeled "free-verse" is poetry.  Why are poets afraid of their work being labeled as prose?  What is wrong with prose?  Why force good prose unnaturally into stanzas and why get indignant when someone points this out to you?  Is it ignorance or snobbery or both?  I think a line break is certainly a characteristic of free-verse but I can't see how you can define free-verse by its line-breaks.  

Free-verse seems to be defined more by what it isn't than by what it is.  It isn't verse and it isn't prose.  Free-verse also has several other characteristics, in addition to its line breaks, that distinguishes it from prose.  I consider free-verse to be poetry that is (1) free from structured meter (this distinguishes it from verse), (2) rhyme is an option (but because of the irregularity of meter, often doesn't work well) and (3) uses one or more of the other many, many other "poetic tools" (alliteration, assonance, metaphor, personification, strong use of imagery, etc.) available to the writer.  

I just can't buy that it can be as simple as the line breaks.  By your definition my PC could create poetry (and has, as a matter of fact) when my margins get screwed up.

Common Law
Burglary is
breaking and
entering a
dwelling-house
at night with
(general) intent
to commit a
theft or felony.

I don't think movement or flow are necessarily defining characteristics, btw.  Too subjective for my anal-ity.     

Good question Brad.  But why do I feel like I'm going to be put on the hit list of the Free-verser's Guild?

Later.

Jim

[This message has been edited by jbouder (edited 02-28-2000).]
Ron
Administrator
Member Rara Avis
since 05-19-99
Posts 9708
Michigan, US


6 posted 03-04-2000 09:59 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Hold onto your hats, guys - I'm going to disagree with Brad again.   Ahhh, but then I'm going to surprise you.

The line break is just as important to prose as it is to poetry. Except, of course, we call them paragraphs. And they are just as arbitrary, too. Yea, I know. In school we were all taught about topic sentences, related thoughts, and all that other stuff. But that's "formal writing," again. In reality, writers use paragraphs for all kinds of reasons, in much the same manner poets use line breaks. Paragraphs add visual variety to a page of text. Long paragraphs can be used to slow the pace, while short, choppy paragraphs can make action come alive and increase the pace of a story. Paragraphs can draw attention to themselves and the ideas they represent.

Like this.

I'll certainly agree that the line break in poetry is far more important than the paragraph in prose. And I've even seen some dictionaries define poetry in terms of the line break, much as Brad contends. But, in reality, I think it's used in much the same manner as are paragraphs. Ergo, no real difference.

Or is there? Okay, here comes the surprise. Because while I "technically" disagree with Brad on this, I'm going to wholeheartedly agree that his line break contention gives us an important clue as to what I see as the real difference between poetry and prose.

Let's see. Prose (with the exception of the not-very-popular experimental formats) is often defined by a beginning, middle, and end. Some poetry follows suit. Much doesn't. Prose is typically longer in length than poetry, though there are some obvious exceptions (Milton immediately comes to mind). Prose can be lyrical, even metrical (Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"), and all good prose must "flow" well, but we usually think of it as being more, uh, prosaic than poetry. Good prose uses imagery at least occasionally, sometimes powerfully (read any of Dean Koontz's more recent books?), and some stories are almost entirely metaphorical (Orwell's "Animal Farm"). Still, when we normally think of imagery, our thoughts tend towards poetry instead of prose.

Gee, isn't there at least one technique or tool that is limited to only prose or only poetry?

Nope. Anything you have ever utilized in a poem will be found in a story somewhere. And every single characteristic of fiction has been successfully employed in a poem. And you know what? That's exactly the way it should be!

And, yet, there is a difference. We all know it, and we all know it when we see it. And I think Brad's observation gives us a significant clue as to what that difference might be. The line break is far more important to poetry than paragraphs are to prose. Plot is more important to fiction than to poetry. Imagery is vital to poetry, less so to prose. Characterization is the life-blood of stories, but rarely used extensively in poetry. Hey, is there a pattern developing here?

I submit to you that the only difference between poetry and prose is emphasis. In poetry, we typically emphasize line breaks, imagery, and the "sound" of words as they flow across the page. Take away any one of those instruments (as some poetry certainly does), and the result is something much closer to prose. If you then add plot and characterization, the things we most often emphasize in our stories, you come even closer, at some point crossing the threshold into prose. Does it work in the other direction, too? Jim shows us that adding line breaks to most prose doesn't turn it into poetry. But that's only because we haven't quite shifted the emphasis enough with just line breaks. Try adding line breaks to the first paragraph of "A Tale of Two Cities," where Dickens has already emphasized lyrical flow.

And, Jim, I think the same argument applies to the differences between free verse and metrical poetry. Free verse isn't defined by what is isn't, but rather by what it emphasizes. Free verse emphasizes line breaks and imagery, with the "sound" of words holding less importance. The more structured and metrical poetry emphasizes line breaks and sound, with imagery often (too often!) falling by the wayside. And you'll no doubt notice that their commonality is the line break, adding some strength to Brad's contention.

I personally believe that every author should try to master every writing technique available. Meter, imagery, plot, characterization, pace, settings, scenes, and - yes - the lowly line break. Every single one of these are nothing more than tools, parts of a writer's craft, and can be learned by simple study and practice. Craft is easy. The true art is both in the seeing and in being able to match the expression to the medium - in short, deciding where you need to place the emphasis in order to best communicate your message.
Brad
Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


7 posted 03-08-2000 10:26 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Actually, I don't have any problems with 'emphasis'. My point is that someone will read differently if it is thought of as poetry or thought of as prose. The reader will look for exactly those issues but only after deciding whether it is a poem or prose. My determination is the line break and when those expectations are not met by that piece, the reader will wonder why it is a poem, will be left unsatisfied or confused.

Question: Can you read something without some sort of expectation?  I don't think you can.

Brad
StarrGazer
Senior Member
since 03-05-2000
Posts 696
Texas


8 posted 03-09-2000 01:16 AM       View Profile for StarrGazer   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for StarrGazer

In The Poet's Handbookprose is defined as : intense passages, usually in paragraph form, that have all the characteristics of the lyric except that they don't use lines
free verse is defined as: lines that are of any length the poet choses, without any set measure (or meter)
I don't know... my teacher once told me learn all the rules of writing then break them all and develop your own style... I kind of cheat because I'm sure there are things I need to learn yet  
My advice to anyone would be write how you feel comfortable and in a way that most emphisises the point you are trying to make through your writing but don't be afraid to experiment a little you never know what you will come up with !!!


 ~*Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a tear*~
jbouder
Member Elite
since 09-18-99
Posts 2641
Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash


9 posted 03-10-2000 03:14 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Ron:

I understand what you are saying about emphasis and actually I think that emphasis is just as (if not more) important than the line break in distinguishing free-verse and prose.  Does your explanation mean that if the emphasis is lacking, the "poem" is actually prose with arbitrary line breaks?

Brad:

"Question: Can you read something without some sort of expectation?  I don't think you can."

No.  I don't think so either.  Like it or not we are creatures of prejudice and often "judge books by their cover".  


StarrGazer:

"...my teacher once told me learn all the rules of writing then break them all and develop your own style..."

I think this is essentially true for most arts but I think "break them all" is not exactly good advise in many cases (I think it is an overstatement of what your teacher was really saying).  I think I know what your teacher meant.  Metrical/lyrical writing is foundational, training the poet to pay attention to sound and pace.  An accented syllable at the beginning of a piece of free-verse can have the opposite effect the writer want to convey (I think this is true in prose too).  

Imagine if Abraham Lincoln began the Gettysburg Address as "Eighty-seven years ago ..." (EIGHT-y / SEV-en / YEARS a- / GO) instead of "Four score and seven years ago" (FOUR SCORE/ and SEV- / -en YEARS / a-GO).  Notice the difference in the "strength" of the sounds.

Also consider Kennedy: "Ask not what you can do for your country ..." as opposed to "Do not ask what you can do for your country ..."

So I think "break the rules" is a little extreme.  Maybe "learn to recognize the effect of the different forms and learn how to best apply those techniques when you break from a pre-arranged format."

Later all.

Jim
 
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