Prose and Poetry: A Pataphor

There are essentially two literary genres: prose and poetry. There is also prose-poetry, which is a shifting, vaguely defined form situated somewhere between the two, but many people are uncomfortable with it and relegate it to one or the other of the previously mentioned because it helps them sleep better at night.

Some people like only poetry; some people only love prose. And then there are people who love both poetry and prose. My guess is that most people love both (at least a little), or would love both if they gave themselves the chance, but many are so enamored with one that they don’t realize their attraction to the other. Either that, or they’re afraid of what their friends would think if they went for that other genre once in a while.

If it is possible to turn a prose-lover into a poetry-lover, or vice versa, that person was likely already prone to loving the genre in the first place. And just because someone who likes both genres goes on a poetry binge does not mean that s/he no longer enjoys prose. Likewise, if someone identifies mainly as a poetry lover but once in a while dips into a bit of fiction, it does not mean that they are in denial or in the act of betraying their poetry-loving cause. It just means that that’s what they’re into reading right now, and they may eventually go back to the other genre or (most often) back and forth between the two.

There are also those who enjoy a little poetry along with their prose. For these, each form enriches the reader’s experience of the other. There is nothing wrong with this.

The literary world is huge and ripe with all shades and shapes of richly rewarding experiences. There is bad poetry; there is bad prose; there is bad prose-poetry (some would say that all prose-poetry is bad, but I digress). There is also much that is good in each genre, and to deny that it is possible for someone to appreciate these simultaneously is to be myopic and petty. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what anyone reads, as long as it has value for them in their lives. One person reading poetry does not denigrate the experience of the prose reader beside him or her. To each his/her own.

Blessed are the free spirits willing to embrace all genres, for they will be bestowed with understanding.


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  1. Hmmm… How about a category of ‘none-of-the-above’, but simply those who are absolutely fascinated with language and its use? A thought defined tends to be a thought confined and can easily miss the key point. I can demonstrate this with a rather raucous example from a communications class…

    A lady reportedly wrote to Ann Landers that she had visited a posh restaurant for a special occasion, but when she went to the rest room she encountered a vending machine dispensing men’s contraceptives! She went on at great length that this was such a disgrace and how could they and what was the world coming to and she was shocked and it shouldn’t be allowed and she’d have them shut down and where was the manager and she was never, ever going back to that restaurant again… Ann’s response was “What was the food like?”

    Similarly with prose and poetry… what was written??

    There’s amazing prose… Just read the Gettysburg address… or anything by Mark Twain, Winston Churchill or the ilk. Similarly there’s amazing poetry. That’s one of the fascinating things about poetry… the use of the words is not strictly defined; its affect and effect relies quite a lot on implication, mood and imagery.

    Interestingly though, there’s also an analogue here straight from Webster’s: The adjective ‘prosaic’. Its literal definition is ‘prose-like’ (check the etymology)… plain, dull and ordinary, as opposed to poetry’. Now we’re back to a fascination with words and language.

    So in summary there are those that insist prose is the only pure form of literature and poetry is a cheat. Obviously they’re way too far into their pros and cons!

    If anyone disagrees on this, equally obvious is that a backwards poet writes inverse.

    Next… grin (-:}

      1. I thought it was a little… Hysterical!
        I just read, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Which was the first piece of prose poetry I would describe as hysterical. Though in a wonderful way. I enjoyed it a lot.

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