Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: prose poems (page 1 of 3)

Here Comes a Twister & Thoughts about Prose Poetry

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.

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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:

stream-of-consciousness draft paragraph without much punctuation – > add punctuation, line breaks, cut stuff -> fiddle w/language, tinker, play -> refine, add and delete lines -> multiple side trips through limbo, some lasting months or even years -> complete poem -> remove line breaks and go back to paragraph form

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?

The Monotony of Ice

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.

The Miner Digging His Way Out

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.

State Surplus

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.

When the Parade Comes

The live oaks grow angry. They bend toward the ground, scoop up children and hold them above the performances of ambiguous kings. Kids sitting in the branches trade Pokémon cards and look like ornaments for some future parade. They reach down to help up the ones left on the ground. Someone helps a turtle across a busy street. Every act of kindness looks like an act of defiance.

The Tune Without the Words

Peculiar wind whistles through the streets: cold from the north, warm and humid from the south. It changes by the minute. I check Twitter to see what I should wear but decency is so out of fashion, and all the pale models wear wings torn from dragonflies and shoes of rhino hide. I study scorpions and avarice and plant hope deep in the ground where scrub jays cache their food. I have learned seventeen synonyms for fiasco.

What Stranger Miracles

what-stranger-miracles

I’m excited to announce the publication of my prose poem chapbook What Stranger Miracles by White Knuckle Press, “publisher of online chapbooks of prose poems.” My sincerest thanks to editors Dale Wisely and Howie Good for agreeing to publish it, and to Dale for his care and attention to the design, which is just wonderful.

You can read What Stranger Miracles free online. I hope you’ll check it out. And be sure to look around at all the other work published by White Knuckle Press.

You Get What You Get

The polished geniuses on TV talked relativity the day my favorite chili joint closed down. Rumors say it’ll be resurrected someday inside a luxury condo retail office project, which just reminds me of the punk clubs of my youth—old warehouses now torn down as the knights of progress routed the nights of rock n roll, leaving behind one faint note, the endless sustain of a beautifully overdriven pawn shop guitar fading forever beneath silent city stars, a ripple in passing gravity waves.

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This Is Not a Literary Journal :: The Prompt that Keeps on Prompting

You Do Not Have to Personify the Mountain

Blue eyes mean avalanches, the old climber warned. Passersby glanced up at condos rising downtown like fingers set to claw the sun. So little light filtered down through the shadows, everyone shivered in the heat. Two panhandlers played the same song in different keys on opposite sides of the street. One man, with crampons and ice axe, started to scale the tallest condo. His friend watched him begin his ascent then ducked into a Thai restaurant where members of his support group met on Tuesdays to start a new political movement. Avalanches could be metal, bricks or piles of trash, stony absences where everything that mattered used to be.

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This Is Not a Literary Journal :: Leaving Mount Everest Alone

Ascent

1.
She went deeper and the boat receded. She worked her chains. The world was locks and water, but she knew the key and smiled as she sank.

2.
The waves came and went leaving constant patterns in the surf. A message: Help me. The beach litter was a map of the seafloor.

3.
He swam for hours into the darkening sea, found her lying in the coral. You came, she said. He exhaled for the last time.

4.
The sea was air, the coral home. Their love the fish, the legs they grew as they evolved back to land to invent boats, chains and locks.

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I posted this to my Twitter feed about a year ago and found it in my files. So, a rerun.

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