Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Thursday, August 7, 2008

[blockhead] Poesy

The Back Country

When you are in town, wearing some kind of uniform is helpful, policeman, priest, etc.. Driving a tank is very impressive, or a car with official lettering on the side. If that isn’t to your taste you could join the revolution, wear an armband, carry a homemade flag tied to a broom handle, or a placard bearing an incendiary slogan. At the very least you should wear a suit and carry a briefcase and a cell phone, or wear a team jacket and a baseball cap and carry a cell phone. If you go into the woods, the back country, someplace past all human habitation, it is a good idea to wear orange and carry a gun, or, depending on the season, carry a fishing pole, or a camera with a big lens. Otherwise it might appear that you have no idea what you are doing, that you are merely wandering the earth, no particular reason for being here, no particular place to go.

Apparently, an actor named Mark Rylance used this prose poem by Louis Jenkins as his acceptance speech at the Tony Awards back in June. I didn’t get to see it, but I wish I had; I love this kind of approach to speechifyin’. Another great example (that I did see) was a valedictorian reciting, from memory and without preamble or explanation, Doctor Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go at a college commencement.

But it did raise a question in my mind: what makes Jenkins’s work poetry? I mean, I think this passage is beautiful and lyrical, but why is it a prose poem and not a prose paragraph? The strict formalist inside of me resists the very idea of a prose poem as an untenable hybrid; yet, there is something about tone and intent that makes a thing a poem, as well as its form, no?I guess I will do what a smart teacher would do: include writing like this in my upcoming Intro to Lit class, and let my students teach me.

1 comment:

John said...

Well, I guess you have to start by defining poetry. But that sounds tedious and semanticky.