One Year to a Writing Life – August – Poetic Prose and the Prose Poem

It’s already a good bit into September, but I had some trouble finishing the last exercise from the eighth chapter of One Year to a Writing Life. The chapter was entitled Poetic Prose and the Prose Poem and dealt, quite obviously, with the prose poem and poetic elements in prose. I enjoyed this chapter and the exercises quite a bit, in spite of struggling with the last one. The first part focused on adding elements like rhythm, repetition and imagery to your prose in order to make it more poetic. This is something I try to do fairly often in my regular writing, but it’s not something I think about very consciously, and this chapter was a good reminder to keep these sorts of things in mind. The first exercise was to write a “first line” about a snow storm using iambic meter. I found this one a little tricky because I’m not used to counting beats and such in prose (or in poetry for that matter; I usually write in free verse). Here is my (hopefully) iambic line:

The house was slowly buried in the snow.

Not very exciting, I know. The second exercise was to continue describing a snow storm, and to pay attention to word sounds while doing it. I ended up focusing mostly on alliteration:

The flakes fell, flew, in flurries, fluttering like flocks of frozen butterflies.

I have a bit of a weakness for alliteration, and I’ll admit I really want to make sure I use this line somewhere at some point. Exercise three involved writing a short paragraph (rather than just lines) on a snow storm (or something else), paying attention to rhythm and repetition. I ended up combining it with exercise four, which was to write a paragraph paying attention to similes and metaphors. Here it is:

The house was slowly buried in the snow. The flakes fell in flurries, fluttering like flocks of frozen butterflies. The girl watched them from inside the window as they landed on the cold glass, freezing into patterns or being blow away again by the bitterly cold wind which whined around the corners of the house like some spectral, wounded animal. Trees, concealed by the flurries of snow, creaked dully, but Nana said they wouldn’t fall on the house. Nana knew these things.

Maybe it’s the frozen butterflies again, but I kind of like this piece and may try to turn it into something slightly longer at some point (we’ll see).

The last two exercises switched the focus from poetic prose to the prose poem, one concerning the narrative prose poem and one the object prose poem. I wrote this narrative snippet based on a dream I had quite a while back:

Falling, Flying


The bed linen still smelt of fabric softener. She dozed off, inch after inch relaxing until she had melted into the bed. The pull came, gripped her by the sternum and lifted her onto the mountain where she would fall. She knew she’d grow wings, but she still held her breath as her balance shifted and she began to plummet. The wings came suddenly, jerking her upward with their fluttering, upward with the fluttering of her eyelids.

The bed linen still smelled like fabric softener.

Not sure about this one. It needs a bit of polish, certainly. The last exercise, on the object prose poem, I really struggled with. I think this was largely because I got hung up on writing it in the way that the author advised, which was to begin with an object and describe it, then make a leap to writing about something else (she suggested a loved one) and then grounding the piece by tying the two together in the final lines. I found it hard to do this without it coming across as contrived. Here is what I wrote:

The porcelain pig is small. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It is painted brown, with a large blue and white flower on each flank, and although it is older than I am it has kept its luster. The eyes are small black dots. A thin slot runs along its back and if you wiggle it, small, aged coins jiggle inside it. It’s that old-fashioned sort of piggy bank where the only way to free the coins is to break it. They’ll stay imprisoned.

When I think of my grandmother I think of caramels, hand-quilted bed covers and cookies filled with raspberry jam. I have it on good authority that this isn’t who she was but before I knew her, really knew her, dementia had made her into someone else. She was still in there somewhere, imprisoned.

Am I comparing my grandmother to a piggy bank? Probably not; we all have things jiggling inside us. The funny thing, though, is that I can’t remember if it was my grandmother who gave it to me.

It’s… weird. The first paragraph is okay, the second I like and the third just kind of…falls flat. I realize, now that I’m reading the instructions, that I didn’t actually have to make a leap to a loved one. I could’ve leaped someplace else entirely, but for some reason I got stuck on this pattern and so it took me several days extra to finish the exercise. In spite that hiccup, this was one of the more enjoyable months to me! The next chapter is called The Alchemy of Imagination. A bit of a cryptic title but I think it will be fun.

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  1. Pingback: Twice Forthnightly – Greetings from Les Sables D’Olonne | Emma Lindhagen

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