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#MondayBlogs: The Prose Poem

14 Sep

Intro:

Poetry is important to me. When readers ask about my background in writing, they are almost always curious about my education regarding writing. More often than not, readers aren’t surprised to hear I studied creative writing in college, but they are surprised when I clarify I spent most of my time studying poetry. In fact, my poetry professor was one of the most influential people on my life and writing. So, when poet Ann Howells queried me about the importance of the prose poem, I was estatic to share her piece today.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect my own. To show authenticity of the featured writer, articles are posted as provided (a.k.a. I do not edit them). However, the format may have changed.

The Prose Poem by Ann Howells

As a form, the prose poem tests boundaries. It upsets award givers: a singing pig or tap dancing chicken. It defies categories and exists for those fascinated by enigmas. When poetry subverts its dependence on the line of verse for identity it opens new possibilities. Once the amazement of even having a prose poem is past, the poem can be appreciated for its uniqueness and the way in it combines suggestiveness and completeness.

History—Prose poems go back to poetry’s beginnings. Neither the ancient Greeks nor the Anglo-Saxons required line breaks, nor did Old Testament parables which concentrated imagery, symbol and allusion much more than prose. Early traces also appear in the Chinese Fu form, a prose form that includes rhythm and meter. In Fu, word association allows the writer to leap from one word to another, referred to as riding on dragons. This same associative leap is common in prose poems. The poet explores an experience through metaphor, through multiple levels of consciousness, leaping from conscious to unconscious and maintaining a sense of surprise.

The modern day prose poetry began with Symbolists in France and Belgium in the 19th century. The first were by Baudelaire, who praised it, saying, a miracle of poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience. These prose poems are rich in suggestion and metaphor and tend to have strong lyrical qualities. Other French Symbolists who wrote in his form include Rimbaud, Mallarme, and Valery. From there the prose poem spread in all directions through all major languages of the planet.

It was slowest to catch on in the United States where the first prose poems were journal entries of Hawthorne and Thoreau and newspaper articles by Whitman (under a pseudonym) for the New York Leader (early 1860s). Later, his Specimen Days, built on those articles, became the first book of prose poems published in America. He called for poets to break down the barriers of form between poetry and prose. Few listened.

William Carlos Williams claimed that, while blank verse and free verse were perfect vehicles for English voices with different tones and patterns of stressed syllables, the rhythm and intonations of prose poems were in tune with speech patterns of everyday Americans—a vehicle made for their voices. And, in the first decades of the 20th century, a bunch of little journals began to publish prose poems. (One of these was Poetry.) Yet, critics were hostile. After the publication of Russell Edson’s The Very Thing That Happens in 1964, small journals again began publishing a few prose poems. Robert Alexander (a well-known contemporary prose poet) compares the controversy over the prose poem to the controversy over free verse at the turn of the century. Free verse has dominated for years in this country (though not necessarily elsewhere). It marginalizes the prose poem, as well as formal forms like sonnets and villanelles, even though many, including editors, still think it an inferior prose with no place at all among poetry. The proponents are the poets themselves. Even then, consider the brouhaha surrounding the Pulitzer Prize (1990) given to The World Doesn’t End, a book of prose poems by Charles Simic. It drew an avalanche of protest from poets and reviewers.

What exactly is a prose poem?— Prose poems (sometimes incorrectly called proems, which is not a literary term) are poetry contained in a prose format that utilizes all the devices of poetry except the line break. While the distinction between verse (a poem containing regular meter and formal attributes) and prose is clear, that between poetry (a highly organized, artistic genre that produces a discrete object d’art) and prose is obscure.

Prose poetry can be divided roughly, by subject, into seven categories:

  • The object poem—about an ordinary object seen in a new way—like a mop or a shoe. These poems are usually quite short. See “Shoes” by Warren Lang.
  • The surreal narrative—popular in the 1960s, these often presented a metaphysical conceit, yoking together unexpected elements. They have a dream-like quality. Read Russell Edson’s work; you’ll either love or hate it.  Or see “Un Bruit Qui Court” by Maureen Gibbon.
  • The straight narrative—different than prose in that they emphasize feeling rather than plot. See “Translations” by Michael Carey.
  • The character poem—fleeting impressions rather than fleshed-out descriptions. See “How Grandma and Grandpa Met” by Michael Carey.
  • The landscape or place poem—often arising from journal entries or letters. They tend to be more impression than physical description. See “Icebergs” by Roger K. Blakely.
  • The meditative poem—self-descriptive, but tending to be metaphysical and abstract. See “My Name” by Jack Minezeski.
  • The hyperbolic poem—consists almost entirely of verbal play. See “The Voyage of Self-Discovery” by Michael Benedikt.

Some volumes of prose poetry contain mainly poems written in prose style with regular punctuation and capitalization. Some have paragraphs to parallel the verse structure of lineated poetry, some are written as a single paragraph or verse with regular punctuation and capitalization and some as a single paragraph without any punctuation or capitalization. Some poets have pushed this even further by beginning the poem and sometimes ending it in the middle of a sentence. One rule of poetry has always been, begin in the middle, though perhaps not so conspicuously. It simply means to begin at the heart and eliminate introductory lines giving background or setting up the situation. This is even more so with prose poetry which captures a moment, facet or fleeting emotion. Also, without punctuation, one word can modify the meaning of both the phrase preceding it and the one following it. It works much the same as judicious line breaks which leave a word that belongs with the thought in the following line at the end of the previous line to color its meaning also.

What some poets have to say about Prose Poems:

It explores the ways a story and a poem can spring from the same source. An open and associative form to reach half buried thoughts. (Mark Vinz)

A poem is language presented as an art object—meant to be viewed as a work of art. Prose says: ‘Come listen. I alone have survived to tell this tale.’ But a poem entices us. ‘Come listen. No one else can tell this tale as artfully as I.’ (Robert Alexander)

Prose poems distill and mimic prose. They offer ‘life histories reduced to paragraphs, essays the size of postcards, novels in nutshells, maps on postage stamps, mind-bending laundry lists, theologies scribbled on napkins.’ (David Young)

While poetic prose may use some rhetorical and poetic devices and elements of aesthetic texture (sound, rhythm, imagery, etc.), it does not do so as consistently or as intensely as the prose poem because it is intended to be prose. The prose poem depends upon all the devices of poetry except line break, with no single element being essential. It uses heightened language; metaphorical expression; musical form; structural repetitiveness; prosodic features like meter, alliteration, etc.; and brevity. It has a great deal of internal movement in the rhythm and syntax that replaces the tension otherwise created by contrived line endings, (though in a prose poem the phrase is the smallest unit of rhythm, rather than the syllable or foot of lined poetry). Prose poems often give more significance to the final lines than other poems, which helps add closure. Sometimes merely that can turn a journal entry into a prose poem, i.e. an observation followed by a line or two that adds universality. Voice dominates. Prose poems are trickier to bring off successfully than lineated poems.

Bio: 

Ann-Richardson 2007Ann Howells’s poetry appears in Borderlands, Concho River Review, Crannog (Ire), RiverSedge, Rockhurst Review, San Pedro River Review and Spillway among others. She serves on the board of Dallas Poets Community, 501-c-3 non-profit, and has edited Illya’s Honey Literary Journal, since 1999, recently taking it digital (www.IllyasHoney.com) and taking on a co-editor with whom she alternates issues. Her chapbooks are, Black Crow in Flight, (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2007) and the Rosebud Diaries (Willet Press, 2012). She has been read on NPR, interviewed on Writers Around Annapolis television, and been four times nominated for a Pushcart, twice in 2014.

Want to be a guest blogger? Now is the time to submit. I will be stopping guest blog posts in October/November, but before then, I would love to have you on! I am accepting original posts that focus on reading and writing. Pictures, links, and a bio are encouraged. You do not have to be published. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

~SAT

#WW The Difference of Pronunciation and Writing

22 Jul

#WW Pronunciation and Writing

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris demanded my attention simply from the title. Despite working with the English language every day—both as a writer and as an editor—I have difficulty speaking. I stumble and stutter a lot. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I worked so hard to master the written language. I was making up for another aspect of the language I didn’t excel in.

Looking back on it, I blamed moving around a lot as a kid—mixing up accents and phrases and idioms—but I don’t have much blame anymore. In fact, I’ve rather embraced this awkward part of myself, and it no longer bothers me like it used to. While most people around me avoided bringing it up a few years ago, it’s now a common joke. “Okay. English major.” “Aren’t you the writer here?” Both phrases I now hear on a regular basis, paired with laughter and a “Yeah. yeah. I get it.” It’s an accepted part of my life now, something I don’t fight, something I realized most people look past anyway. I was the one judging myself.

Take the other day for example…

On a drive back from the grocery store, I saw Venus and Jupiter in the sky. I am a HUGE space nerd—probably due to Sailor Moon—so I started rambling about how new information on Pluto released, discussing spots on the surface, and NASA was speculating what could’ve caused it. That’s when I came across the word “meteors.” The problem was simple. I had just finished talking about how Meg Cabot’s final book in the Mediator series was coming out and now I had to say meteor? It wasn’t happening. I stumbled for three minutes. Eventually, it turned into a giggle fit.

I know the words. I know how to say the words. I just can’t explain why it doesn’t come out that way. But I think the saddest part is when people can no longer take you seriously when you stumble over a word or two. In all honesty, I haven’t had that problem much. In fact, I think I simply worried that it would happen, so I stayed silent. My speech class in college got me over that fear. If I can say this without bragging, I got a big ol’ A in that course. (I know. I know. It’s speech class. But it meant the world to me. In fact, it meant Pluto, Jupiter, and Venus to me.) Up until that point, I thought there was no way I could succeed as a writer with a pronunciation issue like mine. What was I supposed to do if I ever booked a signing where I had to read a chapter out loud? The horror! What happens when people think I couldn’t have possibly written the words if I couldn’t speak them? Double horror! How do I explain myself? …I just died from horror.

It was a panic attack waiting to happen…a panic attack I overcame a long time ago but still comes back every now and then when I have to say specific or pacific, shoulder or solider, Neanderthal, and, I suppose, meter or mediator. (Fun fact: I stumbled over mediator in my YouTube video—Book Boyfriends—and said “med-a-tore” instead. I suppose I could’ve deleted it, reshot it, edited it out, but I’ve embraced this part of myself.)

These are all words I avoided saying out loud. All words I’ve used in stories a hundred times. All words that are, no matter what, precious to me.

Two moments, two poetry readings, I overcame my fear.

Two moments, two poetry readings, I overcame my fear.

“Emma Saying” on YouTube and “How To Pronounce” are two websites I use on a regular basis to practice. I don’t avoid words anymore, but I still stumble, and I imagine that’s just a part of me that makes me me—a character in my own right—a writer who stumbled over her love for words.

~SAT

And…announcements…

promoI’ll be at Penned Con in St. Louis, Missouri THIS Saturday. I’m going as a reader, not as an author, so if you want to meet me, simply email me at shannonathompson@aol.com. In other news…

Minutes Before Sunset releases in 6 days. 6 DAYS! We’re less than a week away, and all of your support matters. You make a difference in my life, and for that, I thank you.

All three novels in The Timely Death Trilogy are up for pre-order: Minutes Before Sunset, Seconds Before Sunrise, and Death Before Daylight. Please check them out or share them with the teaser. That would also mean Pluto, Venus, and Jupiter to me. :]

ANDDDD don’t forget. CTP’s Midsummer newsletterMagic Prty is on July 30, from 7-9 p.m. on Facebook. You can win paperbacks, jewelry, and more – all by playing games. You know I’ll be there. :] OH! And I started a newsletter, so feel free to click here to sign up. You’ll get to win more prizes!

Get excited! More information to come.

~SAT

#WW Rejected? How to Keep Submitting

15 Apr

Rejected? How to Keep Submitting

Lately, I’ve been trying to help a lot of fellow writers find publishers, literary journals, and websites where they can share their work. The market is HUGE (hence the giant, capital letters), but for many, this is both a positive and a negative description of the industry. With so many options, how does someone know where to submit? And with so many opportunities, why do I keep getting rejected?

rejectThere are so many answers for this, and none of them are accurate. It’s all guesswork. I can’t tell someone why their manuscript was denied by so-and-so, and I can’t explain why someone else’s poetry made it into The Gettysburg Review over someone else. Only the judgers could, for certain, say why, but even then, it often comes down to their mood that day or their theme that month or how well it would fit in with the other work they already accepted. Again, guesswork.

That being said, this is when I see too many writers give up hope. They’ve submitted to 20 or so places and either received rejections or nothing at all, so they stop. Now, I want to take this moment to clarify that I’m talking about submitting to places today. I’m not discussing self-publishing. While I completely support (and often suggest) self-publishing, it isn’t for everyone, and many people do give up when submitting starts to overwhelm them, so this post is more for them – this post is for those writers who have specific journals they want to see their name in, to see a certain label on their work, to be among the voices of their favorite journal. That’s their goal and their decision, and I see nothing wrong with it. So, again, while I support self-publishing, this post is directed at writers who are submitting to places who might feel discouraged by the process. Below, I’m outlining a few steps to keep your pen up and your ink flowing while also submitting and submitting and submitting until that rejection pile becomes an acceptance pile.

Here are ways to keep submitting: (I’m going to use poems for the example)

Keep a Submission Journal

Set a goal for submitting a certain number of times during a specific timeframe. Ex. I will submit three poems to three journals every month. Now, here’s the tricky part – keep track of that goal. Write down what poems, what journals, and what dates you submitted. This will help remind you that you are currently submitting, and even if you get rejected, I guarantee you’ll already feel better because – chances are – you’ll already have other poems circulating for submission. Many journals, for instance, take months to get back to someone, so submitting different poems in different places will prevent you from getting that “I’m never submitting again” feeling because you’ll already have other submissions pending.

Keep Writing

While I believe it’s okay to have a specific poem you definitely want to get published, try submitting other ones too, and definitely keep writing new ones. A story I like to tell everyone involves my poetry publications. When I started submitting them, it was almost always the poems I NEVER thought they’d pick that were chosen in the end. My “best” poems in my mind are not my “best” poems in someone else’s mind. Remember that one reader won’t like everything, so send out more than just one piece of work. Send out a variety. And then write some more. And keep writing.

Keep Reading

One mistake I see many writers make is the lack of reading, especially of the journals and/or publishers they’re submitting to. I, myself, have made that mistake by accidentally submitting a controversial piece to a journal that no longer accepted controversy. Despite the fact that I kept reading the journal, I never noticed the theme change – so it’s important to read the journal and also take notes on the journal’s overall voice and goals. Sometimes writers think they can go around this by just reading the submission guidelines, but it isn’t rare to see “to get a feel for what we accept, read our latest edition….” at the top of submission pages. Even better, many literary journals offer a free copy for you to review, so read, and read a lot. You might even find a new writer you love.

Make a Mentor List

You know you have them. Your favorite novelist. Your favorite poet. A TED speaker. We all look up to someone, and it’s great to figure out where that someone came from. Even better, find someone with similar topics and/or voice, and check out where they came from and how they got their start. That famous writer wasn’t born a famous writer. They had to submit too. And you know what? I bet they even received rejections. But they never gave up, and you shouldn’t either.

Keep on submitting!

~SAT

Author Announcements: An Update

26 Nov

Afternoon, everyone! I believe this is my first post I’ve ever published during the middle of the day, but I wanted to share an update. In the video below, you’ll hear about my recent publication, a gift, and news about Death Before Daylight. I hope you’ll check it out.

Thank you for understanding my break. I miss everyone so much! 

Here are the links to read my recent publication in The Quill: To my Mother and On being overweight

Happy Thanksgiving,

~SAT

Author Announcements

26 Sep

Author Announcements:

Yesterday was my two-year anniversary of blogging here on ShannonAThompson.com. For that reason, I would like to thank each and every one of you for liking, sharing, and commenting on my website as we move forward into the future. A special thanks goes out to my top five commenters – Charles Yallowitz, Mishka Jenkins, theowllady, Deby Fredericks, and Phoenix Rainez – and I hope the next year is just as amazing!

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If you’re interested, here were my top three blog posts from this past last year:

1. Censorship of Self-Published Authors or Something Else? (Oct. 13, 2013)

2. Scribd, Oyster, and Why I’m Hesitant as a Reader and Writer (Dec. 29, 2013)

3. Writing Tips: Hobbies and Talents (Nov. 13, 2013)

I hope you enjoy the posts if you haven’t read them already!

Moving onto the future – many exciting things are happening this fall, so I wanted to share them today, and I hope you’ll help me share the news.

I am doing a meet and greet book signing in the Kansas City area on October 2 from 6 – 8 p.m. Here is a link to the event’s page on Facebook for more information. I know many of you are from around the world and cannot make it in person, but it would mean the world to me if you shared it with your friends and followers in case they are nearby me. I would love to meet everyone that I can! (Also free chocolate muffins and apple tea will be served.)

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I would also like to take this moment to state that prices have now been added to my Services page. They are subject to change, but I hope you check those out. The Author Extension Community provides personal assistant services, including review requests and content editing, as well as social media help, such as Facebook event photos and assessment guidance.

In other news, my latest poem – Peeling Oranges – has been added to my interactive poetry series on Wattpad. Be sure to like, comment, and vote for your chance to be mentioned during my next YouTube video on my channel, Coffee & Cats.

My next two posts – Website Wonders and September Ketchup – will be closing up this month, but I just want to thank everyone for being so enlightening, encouraging, and energizing these past few weeks. I’m excited for what Autumn will bring, and I cannot wait to spend it with you all right here on ShannonAThompson.com.

Have a great weekend,

~SAT

P.S.

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