Fish crumble on the shore, heron flake at the eyes, and my mother’s hands push up through caddisflies, their wings, her nails, are hard to set apart.Excerpt from “Katabasis” published in Bright Bones.
Question: What is Buddha?
Answer: Three pounds of flax.
I cannot answer that riddle. I cannot even understand it. It’s the same with these forms: prose poetry and lyric essay. Perhaps the former is shorter than the latter, but not always. Lyric essays may include more facts than prose poems, simply because the word “essay” implies nonfiction. Prose poems may also include facts.
Here’s a definition of lyric essay from wikipedia: Lyric essay is a literary hybrid that combines elements of poetry, essay, and memoir.
Here’s a definition of prose poetry, also from wikipedia: Prose poetry is poetry written in prose form instead of verse form, while preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis, and emotional effects.
Other definitions for these genres tend to come in essay form. Just keep in mind that they are similar. They are hybrids of poetry and prose. And we’ll leave it at that because a writer can write a lyric essay and a journal can publish it as poetry. A writer can write a prose poem, and publish it as an essay. The most important component of both is language–words–not story, not message, not information. Just words, and through words comes meaning.
When I begin my work, I cannot start with a subject beyond seeing that subject as a trigger. Perhaps there’s an experience I want to explore. Fine. But leave it at that. The sooner I dispense with what I think I want to say and get down to the words, the sooner I’ll get to the center.
Kandinsky wrote in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, “The word may express an inner harmony. This inner harmony springs partly, perhaps principally, from the object which it names. But if the object is not itself seen, but only its name heard, the mind of the hearer receives an abstract impression only…and a corresponding vibration is immediately set up in the HEART.
The apt use of a word (in its poetical meaning), repetition of this word, twice, three times, or even more frequently, according to the need of the poem, will not only tend to intensify the inner harmony but also bring to light unsuspected spiritual properties of the word itself.”
Poet Richard Hugo said it more succinctly, “All truth must conform to music.”
And Ursula LeGuin, “A poem or story consciously written to address a problem or bring about a specific result, no matter how powerful or beneficent, has abdicated its first duty and privilege, its responsibility to itself. Its primary job is simply to find the words that give it its right, true shape. That shape is its beauty and its truth.”
Or Mallarmé, bluntly, to Degas, “Poems are not made of ideas. They’re made of words.”
In prose poetry and lyric essay, it’s music for which I’m striving. Subject and truth will come through the use of my words, writing slant, and discovering the secrets the writing reveals. What matters most is how I say it. The only principle: listen to the words swimming in my head, sound first–words, sentences, punctuation, pauses. A line will come, unbidden. Trust it. Follow it, and let it leap toward something else.