a plastic bag ripples
in an outline tree
and sudden wings
a plastic bag ripples
in an outline tree
and sudden wings
She grew up in the land of twisters, seeking shelter in middle bathrooms. She baptized herself in the rivers of glass sparkling through the broken house. Wall clouds turned and blackened, the sky decayed, fell down from itself. Monsters ate trees in the night but by morning, birds always returned, the feeders full of color and song, while all around hailstones melted. Only small questions remained, then; the big ones were all torn up with the trees and trails, apologies she used to believe she owed. A familiar man in coveralls claims he can repair the roof faster, cheaper, better than the other guys who don’t understand these things (sign here please). Her fists clench, knuckles ache like love; she relaxes only when he leaves. She whispers secrets to her daughter: about the days of electricity and engines, about the thrill of kneeling wild-eyed before the weather radio’s robot voice, about prayers for thunder and wind, about how she learned to control storms and how everything that happens flashes in a dark and roaring instant.
This an old one, posted here a few years back and later published at CSHS, but it was originally published as a poem—the kind with line breaks—and not as a prose poem or a flash or whatever the heck these rectangular things are. I’ve found the past few years that I want to write more and more prose poetry and then wondering about the distinction between prose poetry and flash fiction.
They (as in the all-knowing They) say flash has narrative and prose poetry relies on imagery and ideas. What then of narrative prose poems, which is how a lot of mine feel to me? Further complicating matters is the fact that many of my poems are drafted in a sort of rambling stream-of-consciousness paragraph form which I then start fiddling with by inserting line breaks. What happens then when I take away those line breaks and go back to prose as in the above poem and in several of the poems in What Stranger Miracles, which was published by White Knuckle Press in 2016 as a free online chap.
I suppose the flow chart would go like this:
That all seems very convoluted, but something interesting happens in that step between finished poem-with-line-breaks and prose poem that I don’t think I could have gotten to if I had just kept it in paragraph form from the beginning. I think differently about what I’m writing when those line breaks appear.
Maybe then this is more about a reader’s perception than a writer’s intention. I keep thinking about how musicians remix their own work often releasing it in multiple forms. Any given song might have the studio version, the acoustic version, the club mix, and the live version. Each of these requires changes to the original arrangement while the words (usually) remain the same. The listener is able in many cases to choose and purchase the preferred version.
I realize I’m sneaking back into my thoughts about sanctity-of-text that I was writing about recently, but why not something similar with poetry? Why not release prose versions of our work? Even if in abbreviated format like an EP of a few acoustic tracks from various albums. Prose poetry versions might even go over better in e-book format since they’re easier to code and read on an e-reader.
After reading The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Allomar, a collection described as short stories but often straddling that thin line between flash and prose poetry, I can’t help but wonder if this is this all just marketing stuff. Would prose poetry sell better than poetry if we just called it flash or something more generic like short prose? What about poems remixed into prose form? What are those if they were narrative to begin with? And, back to digital questions, would they sell better as ebooks than poetry seems to?
This comes up because I’ve been going back and prose-ifying some of my old poems. I find some of them work better this way. (I wish there was a WordPress plugin that would do this for me.) As I do this, I’m starting to see the outlines of a manuscript that I hadn’t recognized before. There are a number of these poems-becoming-prose-poems that seem to fit together and for me anyway seem to be more interesting in prose.
I’ll close for now with my author’s statement from the beginning of What Stranger Miracles. Here’s “Adseg”:
Just as they separate ax murderers from regular ones, holding them out for special derision and lengthier sentences, we segregate prose poems from regular poems. They get their own labels and cells, a metal toilet, gang signs, and four hashmarks—one for each consecutive sentence—carved into the crumbling walls on some prison island surrounded by and so far from the sea. The prose poem wakes with the others but hesitates when they roll the doors. It knows it shouldn’t enter the yard with the other poems, those sad misdemeanors that just got busted that one time they tried something big.
Has anyone else tried fiddling with their work like this? Did you like the results? What do you think about releasing multiple versions of your work?
I’m doing a little experiment with Amazon’s kindle promo features. My book, A Place Without a Postcard, is currently $1.99 for the next day or so when it will slowly go up to its usual $3.99.
Additionally, my poetry collection, Birds Nobody Loves, is on special as well. It’s currently $0.99, but will slowly ascend to its usual perch at $2.99.
I’m trying to see how well this works, so I’m asking if you’ve read either of these books and wouldn’t mind sharing this with people you think might enjoy them to consider doing so. If you haven’t read them, this is a great way to get them.
If you check out Postcard, you’ll even find out why this site is called Coyote Mercury.
Your heart would break if you knew how many times we walked back from the hole in the fence when the guards weren’t looking. My old jacket smells like incense and french fries now. It took almost an hour to tape our eyes shut. It’s the only way we could be trusted to go outside. The monotony of ice can be unbearable, so say the old explorers. We move slow against the frost. We keep reading the news. We turn to stone.
Fifteen layers of blue obscured the sky, but he was determined to peel off each one like escaping from an onion with the hope of someday catching a glimpse of the planet without its borders. It was a wintry night and icicles formed in his chest, growing from his heart and poking his lungs so that when he bent sideways, he experienced sharp jolts as if being stabbed or lied to by a lover. He rubbed his stubble, stumbling through explanations he would give when he reached the stratosphere and had to lie about what he thought he might discover. Such was the nature of the times, the red poison they’d given him, the green pills, the blue lies. Somewhere there was music, but everything had rusted over and no one had seen a bird in three years.
I had to put my coffee down when the ticket taker came to the window and asked to see my papers. She smiled like a wolf on a hot day. The archivists were trying to get rid of a backlog of surplus anger, eight years worth stacked neatly in a corner of the Capitol back in the 1890s. Starting bids for the smallest lots were only a few bucks, but you had to qualify. Promise you’d only use all that rage for good. You take bribes, right? I asked. She waved me in with her flashlight. Trains rumbled along tracks on the far side of the river.
Lately, I’ve gotten back into making videos. This is my fourth in the past month. This one is from a sequence of three related haiku from Highway Sky called “all roads lead here,” a series of LA-related poems.
Since the “poem” is sort of three poems, I wanted the video to have three parts, and I choose footage that I felt would complement the parts, which in essence tell a story of driving to LA in the middle of the night with the intention of watching the sun set on the beach. If you travel to LA from Texas, you’ll probably come in on I-10 which turns into the Santa Monica Freeway and kind of ends at the Santa Monica Pier. So I wanted footage that followed that trajectory. The footage came from Videvo.net, and I was fortunate to find the LA shot and the Santa Monica beach shots with the others shot who-knows-where.
Things got interesting as I was editing. The more I looked at it, I realized I could cut a line from the first haiku which originally read (as published at tinywords):
a hundred miles out
the glow of Los Angeles
The second line seemed redundant with the footage of the LA skyline and city lights. Likewise, I was able to cut the first line from the third haiku as the sunset-over-the-waves image did the work of the first line.
the sun falls to sea
here at the end of the road
nothing left to say
The central haiku was left alone, but I played with the text to try to put it in motion and show the action of the waves erasing the name.
For the sound, I originally imagined some reverb-soaked surf music. I tried something on my guitar and looked for CC music online, but didn’t find anything. On a lark, I tried some wave sounds and liked how it sounded like highway noise while the cars were on screen, but sounded like waves once the beach shot comes in. Interesting how the image can affect what we think we’re hearing.
I liked this process of adaptation. When movies are adapted from books and stories, filmmakers change things. They fire characters and compress scenes in part to save money on paying actors and renting space, but also because there is often no need to say what is shown. Why not something similar with poetry?
I think writers and probably poets especially can get locked into the sanctity of their words and lord knows there are times when that makes sense, but if poetry is to be a conversation even if as in this case with oneself, I think it’s important to let go a little bit especially when changing mediums. My academic background is in film production and screenwriting where the expectation is that the written word is not final so maybe this comes easier for me, but it’s a comfortable way for me to work and I think it’s useful to see where your words can go and a worthwhile exercise to keep playing with what you’ve made and, if you dare, open it up for others to do so as well.
There must be something in the air. For many months, I’ve missed the sense of community in the poetry blogging world that I found when I stumbled onto readwritepoem back in 2009. Like many, I do better as a writer when I feel there are others on the same or similar journeys. I really admired Carolee’s commitment to revitalizing her poetry blogging practice in November, and I’d made a private resolution to do the same here in 2018. Seems there were a lot of us out there thinking along the same lines as I saw on Donna Vorreyer’s blog. So I joined in committing to trying to post something poetry-related here at least once a week.
Blogging made me a better writer, more focused, disciplined and adventurous than anything else other than perhaps grad school, and since I let it start to slide several years ago I have missed it terribly, both the blog and the people I encountered through the community of blogging poets.
I took a four-year detour into the world of editing and while it was such a wonderful experience, I came to miss writing and reading what I wanted to read. Most of my poetry reading the past few years has been the submissions queue for Gnarled Oak, and while I have been blessed to have read so much fine work, I want to get back to reading poetry books and chapbooks–oh, how I miss chapbooks.
In December, I made three new videos, one of which was even featured over at Moving Poems (Thanks, Dave!). I thought a lot about how much I miss this sort of thing. The creating, the sharing, the discovery and growth.
I’ve written very few new poems over the past few years and I’m chomping at the bit to get back to work, so here I am resolving for 2018 to do this. I plan to try to post at least once a week on poetry-related matters, whether draft poems, reviews, commentary or new videos and also, just as important, read and share some of what I find from the other blogging poets whose work I really admire and who are a constant source of inspiration. Thanks for stopping by.
This is a video I made from “26 January” a poem from Dave Bonta’s excellent Ice Mountain: An Elegy. Dave releases his poetry under a creative commons license, which makes this sort of thing possible. I plan to review the book (and several) others in some future posts–more on that later.
I stumbled on this footage on the ESA/Hubble site while working on Aurora is the effort, and it immediately made me think of Ice Mountain, which I then went back and reread. The ice age reference in the last lines and the fact that “26 January” is one of the more linear poems seemed like a fit for the 1-shot video I imagined.
The footage is an artist’s conception of Pluto, an icy world, apparently lifeless, that resonated for me with the sense of loss and environmental themes that undergird much of Ice Mountain.
For the music, I wanted something that sounded sharp (not musically sharp but sharp as in pointy like icicles) and crystalline with delayed echoes. I decided to try to do the audio myself, so I used my guitar and garage band with some pedal and amp sims that gave me the sound I wanted and then tried to play along with the video I had made. This was my first time trying to score live, and I did multiple takes until I felt it was right. Afterwards, I mixed two of the takes together until it sounded the way I imagined it. I really liked this aspect of it, and plan to do more in the future.
Do check out the other Ice Mountain-related videos on Dave’s site by Marie Craven and Swoon. And thanks to Dave for making his work available like this.