Saturday, May 21, 2011

Alice Fulton


How do you define poetry? What distinguishes it from prose?

Poetry emphasizes music, rhythm, reticence, multiplicity. These qualities, present in prose to varying degrees, are intensified in poetry, framed and underscored by the poetic line. The language of poetry is more distilled and oblique than the language of prose, which tends to be purposeful. A newspaper, for instance, is written to convey information efficiently. We don’t linger over news stories, reveling in the language, mesmerized by the unsaid. A poem, on the other hand, invites readers to fill in the blanks. It lives in the space between words. Like a joke or a koan, a poem can’t be explained. It has meaning, but it doesn’t have a “message;” its stratas are too vast and complex to be neatly summarized. There are unspoken implications at every turn; you have to intuit it, “get it.” It’s recursive, an infinite regress.

In fact, I think of poems as having vertical depth. It’s as if prose is a horizontal structure, built across a surface, while poetry is a catacomb. Prose speeds the eye onwards, while poems resist—and purposely impede— that forward movement. Their language is so faceted—strange, rich—that it creates beautiful obstacles and sends the eye backwards over lines, enticing us to slow down and reread. Rather than pulling us forward, a poem drives us more deeply into the page. Its resistance should give pleasure; we go back because we want to experience this uncanny thing again. Maybe prose is like walking while poetry is like dancing. We walk to get somewhere, always moving forward. But we dance just to dance, and the movement sometimes goes backwards or downwards.

[every time the bEast reads AF he swoons ~ and he dancessssssssssssssssS! !!]

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