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Poems live and breathe.  They can be picked up and held – sometimes at your peril.  A poem may walk agreeably alongside you or may pounce from behind a fountain.  It may crawl inside your ear while you’re daydreaming and burrow into your brain.


from Tender Buttons, by Gertrude Stein.


More of double.

A place in no new table.

A single image is not splendor. Dirty is yellow. A sign of more in not mentioned. A piece of coffee is not a detainer. The resemblance to yellow is dirtier and distincter. The clean mixture is whiter and not coal color, never more coal color than altogether.

The sight of a reason, the same sight slighter, the sight of a simpler negative answer, the same sore sounder, the intention to wishing, the same splendor, the same furniture.

The time to show a message is when too late and later there is no hanging in a blight.

A not torn rose-wood color. If it is not dangerous then a pleasure and more than any other if it is cheap is not cheaper. The amusing side is that the sooner there are no fewer the more certain is the necessity dwindled. Supposing that the case contained rose-wood and a color. Supposing that there was no reason for a distress and more likely for a number, supposing that there was no astonishment, is it not necessary to mingle astonishment.

The settling of stationing cleaning is one way not to shatter scatter and scattering. The one way to use custom is to use soap and silk for cleaning. The one way to see cotton is to have a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration. The perfect way is to accustom the thing to have a lining and the shape of a ribbon and to be solid, quite solid in standing and to use heaviness in morning. It is light enough in that. It has that shape nicely. Very nicely may not be exaggerating. Very strongly may be sincerely fainting. May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to.

Gertrude Stein on the cover of Time, 1933

I love Gertrude Stein’s work.  This is an extract from ‘Tender Buttons’ a prose poem sequence.  You can read the full work here:

Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946) was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in America, but spent most of her life in France.  She was a writer, poet, feminist, thinker, playwright and a key figure in modern art and literature.  Her salon at Rue de Fleurus attracted many great artists and writers (such as Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway).  Her romantic relationship with Alice B Toklas lasted forty years.

You can visit other Tuesday Poems via the quill to the left above.


There’s a review of AUP New Poets 3 by Cy Mathews in the latest Takahe.  Having failed miserably to upload a copy, here are a couple of quotes:

 “Wellington’s Janis Freegard stands out with the easy musicality of her poems and prose poems, amongst which are moments of quirky brilliance…”

“At times these narratives risk becoming a little cutesy in their quirky, mannered eccentricity, but for the most part they are very enjoyable…”

“…”The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider” is an especially interesting experiment in serial prose poetry, for the most part realistic, but veering now and then into more surrealistic flights of fancy…”

Recently someone asked me what a prose poem was and I answered something along the lines of it being a poem that’s made up of whole sentences, like prose, but differing from prose in that it doesn’t rely on a plot, but uses an idea or language as the most important thing.  But some prose emphasises language over plot and some regular poems have full sentences.  So what is the difference?  Length? (but a prose poem can be short and a regular poem can go on for pages.  And what about flash fiction?)  Layout? (does it stop being a prose poem the moment you introduce line breaks or write it out in couplets?) 


I see there being a continuum, with prose at one end and poetry at the other and a whole grey area in the middle.  I spend quite a bit of time splashing about in this grey area.  Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’ve written a story or a prose poem or a poem.  Sometimes I’ve submitted a short story to one journal only to resubmit it as poetry to another.  One of my prose poem sequences was first published as fiction and subsequently as poetry.  Often, I’ll submit this kind of a work as “a short piece” to get around the thorny issue of definition.  Does it matter either way?  Personally, I think not.  One person’s poem is another’s short story.  It’s more important to me whether it’s any good, whether it works, whether anyone likes it (all very subjective, too).

So what do the experts say?  Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us a prose poem is:

“a work in prose that has some of the technical or literary qualities of a poem (such as regular rhythm, definitely patterned structure, or emotional or imaginative heightening) but that is set on a page as prose.”

Wikipedia has this to say:

“Most critics argue that prose poetry belongs in the genre of poetry because of its use of metaphorical language and attention to language.

Other critics argue that prose poetry falls into the genre of prose because prose poetry relies on prose’s association with narrative and its reliance on readers’ expectation of an objective presentation of truth in prose.

Yet others argue that the prose poem gains its subversiveness through its fusion of poetic and prosaic elements.”

Peter Johnson, quoting himself on Webdelsol, says:

“Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels”


Bring on the banana peels!



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December 2020

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