The first day of the Prose Poem class I was dismayed. My professor wanted us to write haiku. It was a moment before I could process what she was saying. Hai-who? Hai-What? No. No not that. It can’t be that. I write fiction and free verse poetry. Not that stuff. She wasn’t joking. She led the class on a walk around campus for them to gain material. I, being stubborn, decided to stay in the classroom, which she said I could if I could vividly recall something that would help with my haiku. I thought about the rooftop party I had attended the day before while overlooking Prospect Park. Of course, I could recall something from that for my haiku. I took out my phone and began to look at the pictures of the party. I wrote haiku. Albeit, terrible examples of what I considered haiku. But when she returned with the class I had something written down.
At the end of the Monday class, the assignment was to return to class on Wednesday with a prose poem with lines from your haiku. Great. Not only did I have terrible haiku but I didn’t even know what a prose poem was. There was an article in the course reader that defined a prose poem as a poem with sentences and paragraphs. I came to class confident that I had written three prose poems based on some of the Google examples I had read. We workshopped my pieces and then I was informed that my pieces were line poems. My professor asked if I just felt they worked better as line poems and if that was where the poem took me. I nodded in agreement but I still had no idea what the prose poem meant.
It wasn’t until about week three of the course that I began to really know what prose was. It was after I read some Rimbaud that I tried my hand at prose poetry. I spoke my thoughts aloud into a tape recorder. I then transcribed the speech and placed them into sentences. It was a stream of consciousness piece. I had finally tried my hand at prose. In Week 5, I was introduced to Laura Riding’s stories. I loved them. I could see, although they were not poems, that sentences and paragraphs can lend themselves to beauty. I wasn’t yet sold on the prose poem until I read the Objectivists.
For a class on the prose poem we did a lot of reading of non-prose poems. We discussed different movements like the Beats and the Black Mountain poets. However, every assignment involved writing a prose poem trying the style of the movement we had discussed. I was in love with Reznikoff’s Testimony. I found that prose lent itself to my minimalist style of description. I found that I could say what I needed to say while staying close to the object itself like the Imagists.
I found that I had a lot to say about race. #blacklivesmatter was something that grew to infiltrate my prose poems and all my poetry experiments. I don’t know what to say about prose poetry except it became a vehicle for saying things I needed to say. My final portfolio included a piece on Trayvon Martin:
He fit the description. Fit the description. Always fit the description. Vagabonds in hoodies. hoodies become vagabond signifier. Signify. Signifying he fit the description. He was buying skittles while fitting the description.Beautiful black boy. brown boys fit the description. Fit the description. Just a boy. fitting the description. Iced tea and skittles he was buying while fitting the description. Gray hoodies fit the description. bullets pierce. piece flesh. flesh burrowed through. death becoming the description. He fit the description in blue jeans. Arizona in hand he fit the description. Skittles in his bulging pocket threatening. Threatening was why he fit the description. Brown boys always fit the description.
Sarah Francois is an MFA candidate at LIU Brooklyn. She resides in Brooklyn. She has poetry published in Poetic Diversity, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Paramount and Visceral Brooklyn. She waxes poetic on her blog and on Twitter.
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