Which is your greatest love – poetry or prose?
I was going to ask, 'Which is your first love?' But then I realised, the first love is not necessarily the greatest. So I changed it to, 'Which is your true love?' But then I bethought me, all loves are true ... though not necessarily equal. Then again, they could be equal, so perhaps I should be asking: 'poetry or prose – or both?'
Need I explain, to this audience, that I mean 'Which has your heart as a writer?' (not as a reader)?
When I was younger, and learned that various wonderful novelists had been poets first, I used to smile smugly to myself. Of course they were! Fiction was what they had to do to earn a living by writing, that's all. Not that the fictions weren't brilliant and beautiful, not that they didn't nourish me – but still, it was obvious to me that poetry is really where it's at. After all, I started writing mine when I was seven. I knew in my soul that it was the ultimate gift from God.
Then Australian writer Carmel Bird (whom I knew when were children in Tasmania and again some decades later as rising literary figures in Melbourne) expressed some frustration with me for only writing poems.
'If you can write poetry like that,' she said, 'think what you could do with fiction!'
It took me aback. I already knew that she could write excellent poetry, though she didn't do it very often. And I enjoyed her fiction enormously, partly because of her beautiful and very individual writing style (I recently told her that her prose is poetry) and partly because it was often set where we had both grown up. But it was a revelation to realise, from that exasperated utterance, that she gave fiction priority!
Later I made what was to become a very long and close friendship with a young poet called Helen Patrice. She writes wonderful poems. I envy her talent! And she values poetry. (She's very good at articles and memoir too.) But it has become clear to me – because she often tells me so – that fiction is both her first and greatest love. Not that she has to choose; in fact she might come close to saying 'both' in answer to my question, and is surely not about to stop doing either. Still, I now know that fiction has first place in her heart. It has finally dawned on me that this is a real possibility for many writers. We are not all alike. Just because poetry is MY greatest love....
Carmel was wrong about me. The gift of poetry does not mean I can also write fiction. I am actually pretty hopeless at it! Believe me, I have tried. I do love to read fiction, and have broad, eclectic tastes – from Henry James and George Eliot to Blair Babylon's erotic romances, and everything in between. I do know what things make for good fiction. Both as an editor and a teacher of creative writing, I have to know, so as to steer people aright. It's just that I can't do it myself.
I can write prose. I know these weekly articles work; people keep telling me so. And I know how they work; after all, I am the one crafting them. (They don't just spill out, higgledy-piggledy.) I even had a couple of short stories published in obscure anthologies a long time ago. But they weren't fiction; they were disguised autobiography, and the writing was kinda 'experimental'. I have twice attempted novels. The first time, I got bored with it pretty quickly, and had enough sense to realise that if it was boring its author it was unlikely to enthral readers. The second was my only NaNoWriMo experience. It was fun to do that, just once, and I did finish it. The trouble is, it's really bad – you can trust me on this; it is not an isolated opinion – and I have no incentive to try and improve it. (But you should see the painstaking patience I have for every detail of a poem.)
People have been asking me for years to write my memoirs, and I have tried. But I'm not thrilled with the way that writing turns out either – and besides, I experience it as a chore. I finally decided I don't have to do that, no matter how much people might want me to. What a relief! What liberation! And I guess that's the crux of it. I just don't want to write stories, whether lived or imagined. Poetry is my passion, my true love, which 'age cannot wither ... nor custom stale'. (It may even include stories sometimes, whether lived or imagined). And I am happy enough to write articles about poetry, too. When I am not with the beloved, it is a pleasure to at least discuss the beloved.
My late friend Philip Martin was like me, as this poem (from his A Flag for the Wind) attests:
For a whole year
Nothing. You don't come near.
Verse drags its feet, stumbles.
Try prose then, start a novel.
Take out someone else.
Maybe I'll 'learn to care'.
All at once you return,
And the words dance again
To rhythms not my own.
Ah my true love,
You must have known!
Prose would have been a mere
Nevertheless I was excited, like the rest of our Poets United team, when Magaly came on board with a monthly Prose Pantry. I knew what poem I would like to retell as a story. I thought I could do it. I thought I'd enjoy it.
Nope! I still have my old problem. My tale dragged on boringly, with no real spark of life – though the poem I was basing it on was full of spark and sparkle. I know what kinds of things might bring it to life; I just find that, when it comes to the crunch, I can't write it that way.
Well, never mind, it's not a major tragedy. I get to do what I love, and not what I don't love. One of the things I love is reading stories which other people have written, so I am in for lots of yummy monthly treats, thanks to all of you who do cook up goodies for the Prose Pantry. Bring it on!
Only it has made me curious. I already know that Magaly, magical poet as she is, loves story-telling even more. We've been discussing all this behind the scenes (and perhaps she will expound further here). What about the rest of you? I am fascinated to know if you fell in love with poetry first, or with story-telling? And did you stay faithful or move from one to the other? Perhaps you share your affections with both? (Is that exacting? Do they get jealous and demanding, and fight for your attention? Or are they content to share, gracefully taking turns?)
Come on – tell me your stories of your relationships with your Muses, do!
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I LOVE your Moonlight Musings! Poetry chose me, and is my first love. At fourteen, poems started pouring forth, though I have also written stories through the years - mostly memoir, but a small amount of fiction. I LOVE the poem "Muse", that's sort of how I feel, too. I am happy to have the chance to write prose again, as have neglected it for too many years. Loved this column, Rosemary!ReplyDelete
Yes! Yes! Yes! Sherry. Love the poem and always love your writing.Delete
Sounds like your second love is important to you too, Sherry. (Smile.)Delete
Poetry is also my first love, although I have written short stories and a children's novel, which I carried around with me for years and then took another four years to finish but hasn't been published. I'm still looking for an agent. I've been writing poetry since I was a child. It got me through university, pregnancy and a divorce. Now it is my best friend in retirement. I enjoyed this column too!ReplyDelete
Ahhh Kim, yes poetry is a 'best friend" couldn't agree more. Congratulations on finishing your children's novel...All the best on finding the perfect match in an agent.Delete
What Pearl said.Delete
Ahhhh speaking about synchronicity..I came over here today, before turning back to working on what would be a fourth or fortieth version of a novel about Kaitlin, a little raped-murdered-blonde-four-year old child, putting aside writing another poem or two for a moment, seeking friendly "faces" and inspiration. I arrive here to find this question! Prose or Poetry? I've written nonfiction and enjoy putting words down in an orderly fashion and sharing some information with others along with my point of view. I am fairly adept at the using language to synthesize ideas into prose, have even had a few nonfiction books published, which I now know is a huge accomplishment, but at the time as a would-be novelist, did not feel like "real writing." I have thought I would be a Writer, with a capital W, since I was nine and have waited patiently for the idea and the characters to come to me so I could begin my journey as the novelist, I was certain I was meant to be. Along, the way - not to waste time - I went about filling in my time, doing reams of writing through two different graduate program and careers as a secondary school teacher and as a psychoanalyst ... and all along I wrote - chunks of would-be novels , that as an avid reader I could immediately recognize as the corpses of junk that they were; editing only sucked any faint spark of life from their bodies. Yet, I kept them on my shelves in binders. ... All the while since childhood, I wrote poetry. Undoubtedly encouraged at that magic age of nine again, by the wonderful blue-haired teacher Mrs. Doyle. In one of the first weeks of her third grade class she asked us all to look out the window and share what we saw as she gestured toward the flag on a flagpole. Oh, there were various descriptions of color and the wind, and the sunlight, and so forth, and when we were all done and looking at her with expectant faces for the "right answer" or some feedback, she announced that what we had shared were "picture words." Simply stated, she gave a term to the way that I thought about words and the way that they often effortlessly came through me onto the page. Mrs. Doyle's picture words have stayed with me through a life-time. However, it has only been during the past eight or nine (hmm there's that nine again!) years and more than a couple of dozen publications that I realize that while, I've been waiting to be a novelist - I am a poet - I suppose. Poetry flows through me, as though it is a second language - novels are an aspiration ... Several years ago a character did "come to me" fully formed and yet three versions later she still is far more alive in the poems I have written for her than in the novels that are as dead as she. Whew.... So which do I love? The form that I hold no pride in because it comes to and through me from some unknown source, effortlessly and without struggle? or the elusive tantalizing novels that I feel live in my soul albeit formless and completely unborn.Perhaps, it is my inability to "novel" that drives the passion to write and write and write the poem. As a writer I would say that my "greatest" love is the novel (not simply prose) but that consigns me to a forever lack of satisfaction at best, melancholia at worst, for I have not even attained the ranks of a lousy novelist. Can one's greatest love be unborn and perhaps never-to-be? I must assume that is so, and yet can one gather one's poems as children mystically born to me and smile with astonishment (many times I do not recall nor often recognize poems as my own) and yes pride that I am a channel for expression. I only know ultimately, that writing novels has me hold my breathe and reading them leaves me cold... Writing poetry comes in a rush as clear and cathartic as a painless childbirth and with each one and each time I sigh with pleasure and relief at release. Pain or pleasure? Held breathe or exhaled sigh? It is a magnificent question.ReplyDelete
Apologies people... but obviously moved me!!! Can't wait to read some of your thoughts on this question.ReplyDelete
Dearest Pearl, don't apologise. That was WONDERFUL. A fascinating account of a lifelong passion thwarted – and an easy, happy love undervalued perhaps. (A bit like Scarlett O'Hara mooning over one unattainable man whilst failing to see the sterling qualities in another?) All through, I was reminded of Marge Piercy's line: 'a real writer is one who really writes'. Clearly you do, and have done, copiously, if not quite as you wish. You can justifiably call yourself a writer, as well as a poet. And another thing occurs to me – why not write the Kaitlin novel as verse? Maybe with a few brief connecting passages of (poetic) prose. I'd read that! I'd buy it too.Delete
One of my favorite forms is the Haibun, which combines poetry and prose. This is one I created this morning.ReplyDelete
I was much more prolific with poetry when I was younger. As an old crab, I prefer prose most of the time. I tend to write poetry prolifically twice a year: in April and October. April is NaPoWriMo month, and October is OctPoWriMo month.
What? There's an OctPoWriMo? Where do I find it (when the time comes)?Delete
PS I do like haibun too.Delete
Poetry!!!!❤️ Though I indulge in prose from time to time, poetry is my first and only love. It chose me and is the reason behind the person I am today! It allows me to unlock a part of me which I never knew existed .. being an introvert and someone who doesn't share feelings openly poetry lets me unwind and discover things in a different light.ReplyDelete
What can I say? I loved this topic and smiled at the idea of prose being a causal affair!! Thank you for this amazing post, Rosemary!❤️
Thank you, dear Sanaa ... and why am I not surprised? (Smile.) How glad your readers are that poetry chose you, not only as a poet but a poet of unparalleled sensuousness in dealing with romantic love.Delete
Prose is like my day job and poetry is the rest of my life. Poetry is like hand stitching and prose is like using a sewing machine. Poetry is like the flowers in m garden and prose is like the vegetables. Poetry taught me everything I needed to know about writing prose.ReplyDelete
So beautifully said, Colleen – I think this could be a slogan for all of us whose true love is poetry.Delete
Colleen, you have a poem here!Delete
Ha ha! – I linked to this post on facebook, where Helen Patrice commented:ReplyDelete
'Thankyou for mentioning my polyamorous life with poetry and prose.'
Hi Rosemary! Another wonderful topic. And the poem by Philip Martin made me smile. I can relate. :)ReplyDelete
Poetry is my first love, and she knows it too. For she jealously guards her space, and comes to me without much effort.
But I love prose too. I’m drawn to memoir even though I like the wide scope fiction provides. So, I tend to blend the two.
That blending sounds interesting!Delete
Ha! My first love was art, specifically comics, i drew panels with a classmate in class, to heck with what the teacher was saying. i drew scrapbooks upon scrapbooks of artwork, perhaps it was the Beano or Batman comics that inspired. In secondary school, i turned to sketching and oil painting, although i was studying physics.ReplyDelete
i could have followed the art route, but almost everyone was saying you could not eat oil colours and canvas. so in my retirement years, i think i may go back to school with those colours.
i think i am terribly off-topic, and got carried away.
yes, i think my first love is poetry. i started with really bad, angry stuff (afraid to call it a poem ), and yes, i really grew to love it, and occasionally write that short story (prose). Played with the idea of a novel but the thought scared me. See, i started my blog more than ten years ago, and it is still on-going. :)
Oh, but that's very illuminating, about the art. And I always love the artworks on your blog, particularly the drawings. I hope you do indulge yourself with some classes now, if you want to – though I am not sure you even need them.Delete
I am delighted if my post made you get carried away! Actually, you are not alone, if you look at some of the other comments. It's great! What are poets without passion?
I love storytelling with all that I am. And if you had asked the question of which I loved best poetry or prose a few years ago, I would've probably said (without hesitation), "Prose, of course."ReplyDelete
And you know what? The answer would've been completely true. In fact, it still is: I love storytelling.
But... something has changed in me. I have learned that storytelling can be done in both poetry and prose, it just needs to be done in different ways.
So, if you asked the question again (as you did *cough*), I have to say that I'm in love with both poetry and prose equally. And I that I find delight in showing my love to them through storytelling. Does that make sense?
I love this musing, Rosemary.
Ah, you've surprised me! So prose was your first love, but no longer your greatest. But then again, you've re-defined the terms, claiming story-telling as the real true love, so both prose and verse become simply the different clothes which story-telling chooses to wear on any particular day. I like that!Delete
Great post! I enjoyed your article, Rosemary.ReplyDelete
The marvellous Philip Martin poem absolutely hit the ball out of the park, for me. I could not have expressed my relationship with prose, more eloquently. Love-love-love this droll little piece!!!
While, I too, adore reading prose - when it comes to writing it - flash friction seems to be as far as my inspiration is willing to stretch.
Let me just add, I found the comments fascinating - especially as I know the work of many of the commenters. All-in-all, an all-round awesome share!!!
Yes, this piece seemed to inspire some very engaged and lively comments – not least your own!Delete