Thursday, April 11, 2013

where the lines break

What is a poem? In high school the joke was anything with a jagged right margin. Hence a "prose" poem (or maybe that's a prose "poem"). Dan Chiasson has something to say about this in his review of Carl Phillips' twelfth collection Silverchest :

Many fine poets would retain their power even if their poems were printed as prose. … The prosiest poets would not: there is no William Carlos Williams, or H.D., or George Oppen, without line breaks. Phillips is one of the latter.

And as an example: "The trees wave but, except to say 'wind—up again,' this means nothing." Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to break the quote and turn it into poetry. You can check your efforts against the original in the latest, 4/15/13 issue … Oh, how annoying! It's behind The New Yorker paywall! (Paying to read a poetry review—the idea!). I'll post the "answer" as a comment (below).

Carl Phillips, by the way, we've come across him in three anthologies we've read, most extensively in Word of Mouth. He's gay and black but doesn't make much of either. Notwithstanding, a very fine poet.

1 comment:

Tim said...

The poem ends:

  The trees

  wave but, except to say "wind—
  up again," this
  means nothing. Sometimes,

  we hold on to a life tightly.
  Foolish; sad.
  Not to know that it has already left us.

Dan Chiasson continues ' … The line breaks invite scrutiny, and make even a simple verb like "wave" seem like a dangerous risk: as it turns out, "wave," since it suggests saying goodbye, sets up the poem's elegiac conclusion. The beauty of this skeptical, self-cancelling poetry lies in its resignation, and in the silent interstices between words: that semicolon between "foolish" and "sad" has stuck with me for fifteen years, since I first read the poem.'