A Tale of Two Panels at AWP

Well, actually three. The one I moderated--Kundiman Kindles the Flame--was good. Of course it was!

Really, though, I want to talk about the two I participated in as a panelist.

The first was called "Where Yearning Meets Epiphany." It was . . . a bit erratic.

First off, there are a myriad of things that I'd like to say about the junction between short-shorts and prose poems. Personally, I don't think the distinctions are as strictly defined as one of my cohorts suggested. Of course, I really didn't have time to defend any position on the matter because . . . well, I really shouldn't say out of my own politeness. Let's just say some people like to talk.

Now, here's what I would've said if given the proper forum:

I wrote Names Above Houses originally as a long poem broken into verse. I had prescribed to it the traits of what could traditionally be found in an Epic poem: a hero, a quest, and peril. What I ended up writing was 48 pages of didactic poetry where the only interesting artifact was the name of the protagonist--Fidelito.

I scrapped the verse incarnation and wrote many many pages in the prose poem form because I wanted to do the opposite of what I had done in the verse piece. So I wrote the first prose poem which lead to the second and third. They all had the character, Fidelito, from the previous draft, but something had changed in the tone of the piece. It was easier for me to write in a magical realist style--perhaps that's because of the trajectory a prose paragraph takes the reader. Rather than having a line break which forces a pause, the lines in a prose poem take a winding descent down the page. Such movement could enforce the unity of sense-making so that the improbable makes perfect sense in a prose paragraph. In the verse form, such properties may collapse due to the line break--the abrupt discontinuity from a line or sense-making unit to the next line/sense-making unit.

Here's section 2 of the first prose poem from Names Above Houses

The macaws found the tooth first. It could have been worse. His tooth might have been found by ants. Fidelito would have grown antennae and that would have presented the problem of appearances. At least you could hide wings under a shirt.

Medium clause, period. Medium clause, period. Medium clause, period. Long clause, period. Medium clause, period.

I intentionally created a movement there that would be similar to someone explaining, very matter-of-factly, a cause and effect relationship.

Now, if I were to break it into lines, here's how I would do it:

The macaws found the tooth
first. It could have been worse.
His tooth might have been
found by ants. Fidelito
would have grown antennae
and that would have prsented
the problem of appearances.
At least you could hide
wings under a shirt.

The pace is far too halting. The line break slows the sense-making down so that by the time the poem ends, for me, the inertia of the improbable first line fades.

Mind you, I understand that my line-breaks here are personal decisions and that you may choose to break the lines differently. Regardless, the line breaks and perhaps the enjambment forces, for this reader, too much of a stutter in this particular case.

Anyway, after I had written the manuscript in the prose poem form, Alberto Rios suggested that I switch the whole thing back into verse. What ended up happening is that I would up condensing the lines even further, taking out articles and short prepositions. But as I mentioned above, something was tonally off. The pop of the playful prose poems was gone. I switched the whole thing back to prose poems and there it stayed.

Ultimately what does this tell me about the form? Nothing except that the work found its way into the form. There's nothing exceptional or earth shattering that I can reveal about prose poems here because, to some extent, I don't believe in such labels. A piece will find the shape it's meant to. More or less, this is what Ron Carlson said and I agreed with him and would've defended his position against the rebuttal that ensued but . . . as I mentioned, some people like to talk.

Additionally, another point by *cough* a particular panelist was made about Ron Carlson's prose poem (yes I'm calling it a prose poem) about doors. I think that the idea that character and the yearning of a character is what creates the distinction between a prose poem and a short-short is a bit dismissive. What about music? What about rhythm? Meh.


Now, the other panel, "More Than a Collection," was great. Not much to say about it except we all spoke the appropriate amount. We all were prepared and passionate about what we had to talk about.

It was quite interesting to hear the manuscript-making processes of the other panelists and it was good to see that my own methodologies weren't so strange.


Glad to be back home.


We're transitioning L. from co-sleeping to the crib. Brutal.


Current Spin:

Clem Snide. "Find Love."

Oliver de la Paz