Poemeleon Prose-Poem Issue Now Online


Online literary journal Poemeleon has just released its latest issue, which is devoted to the prose-poem. In addition to poetry by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Christina Lovin, Eve Rivkah, Cecilia Woloch, yours truly, and many others, Ann E. Michael contributes a thought-provoking essay about typography as a conveyor of meaning.

Poetry has been represented through the typographic art for several centuries; but until recently, few poets have spent much time considering how typography affects the form of the poem. After all, the printed page seems “merely” physical, inanimate, without the breath, rhythm and music that vivify the poem in performance (even if the reader performs it silently, while reading). The printed page has traditionally been the realm of the editor or designer, not the poet who is more accustomed, perhaps, to confrontations with the blank page. But now that we can, essentially, typeset our work as we compose, poets are becoming more aware of how margins, line spaces, and tabular settings can be indicators in the work and alter the form in which the poem is presented—can animate it further. I think prose poets, in particular, could discover in typography a tool with which to push this flexible form in interesting directions.

In verse, a good poem is more effective with its line breaks intact. Even lacking line breaks, the form will peek out from the justified margins because the rhythm, the rhyme, the breath is imbedded. A verse-poem’s line operates on rhythm (and, when read aloud, breath) foremost, with phrasal pacing as a sort of minor premise. With prose, semantic pacing, and the sentence as a unit, have the upper hand. Pacing and rhythm are dependent upon syllabic stress, word choice, sentence length, punctuation, and line breaks, which act as visual cues. In prose poems, the writer/editor’s choice of margins on the page may also be used as visual cues.

With prose poetry, perhaps even more than with free verse, because the formal structure is not on the surface, traditionalist detractors may assume that the form is a thoughtless free-for-all. Prose poetry removes the familiar cues of rhyme, meter and line breaks that tell us “this is a poem”. Like abstract painting, this can foreground other aspects of the artist’s materials that we formerly overlooked. Though it risks becoming gimmicky (a flaw I find in much “concrete poetry”), creative typography can illuminate the significance of the visual choices we make when writing and reading.

Aficionados of the prose poem can read more examples and essays on the subject in the journal Double Room.

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