In the introduction to the Selected Poems of James Wright, Robert Bly said of the prose poem, "Wright adapted his language to the prose poem, he asked it to convey his new mood of praise." Stephen Yenser said of the same, "Wright's version of the prose poem with its tolerance for loose ends, its appetite for digression, its fugitive unity, seems exactly the form to contain journal passages without warping them. What happens in such pieces is that the bud of the actual blossoms into the extravagant flower of vision." This is exactly why I love prose poetry--that seamless bending of story into poetry, life into verse. Many of the poems I write take this shape organically...and what a freeing experience to create this way--just a flirtation with language, word, and lyric without restrictions of form. For some people, form is everything and I respect this. I can honor it even as I slip away to write flagrant prose poem pieces in my cheap unlined notebook. Form and structure have their holy place--and in the vessel of a structured poem, I've seen the divine. I wouldn't have studied language and writing in college (nor would I be able to teach it now) if I didn't. But the prose poem has its place, to flesh out the skeletal structure...to be joyous and messy and wild.
Wright, whose poetry breathes into me, has prompted the question: "What makes that poetry? I don't get it," from countless students. He battled depression, was hospitalized and treated with electroshock therapy, fought a lifelong battle with alcoholism. This is a man who knew pain, suffering, the taste of sorrow. Yet when he was well he moved into longer prose poems, in part, as the introduction noted--because they gave him greater room to share his gratitude.
When I write in this form, my heart pounds--half-guilty, like I'm getting away with something. Using it helps me to hone my fiction writing, flexes that muscle. Knowing as I do the gift of change in and out of genres, I don't wedge myself into the label of "novelist", "poet", "essayist", or "reviewer". I might tell you I'm a writer to be safe, but really I am just a person using words to express mercurial emotion, bittersweet experience, and an undeniable gratitude.