Clash of the Titans LXXXI: Prose v Poetry

April 25, 2008, 12:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Chloe, Debate, Erin  | 4 Comments

In this corner, arguing for the superiority of prose, is Chloe!

And in this corner, fighting on the side of poetry, is Erin!

“I was delayed that afternoon because I had brushed the teeth of a pretty animal that I’m patiently taming. It’s a chameleon. This endearing animal smoked, as usual, some cigarettes, then I left.

I met her on the stairs. “I’m mauving,” she told me, while I myself crystal at full sky I at her look that river towards me.

Then it locks and, maîtresse! You pitcherpin so that at nice vase I sit down if the paths tombs.”

Go ahead. Tell me what that means.

. . .

Yep. I don\’t know, either. That\’s because it\’s poetry, which was never meant to be understood by anyone but the Opium Club.

Think of all your favorite authors when you were little, all the people you learned to read from. Tell me, how many of them were poets? I\’ll wager not a lot, because kids can\’t learn to read on poetry. Why? Because it doesn\’t make sense! And when it does make sense, it\’s talking about feelings or nature or other things that are really, really boring to read about, and have no impact on society whatsoever.

Prose, on the other hand, is not only much easier to understand, but it\’s also really exciting! Are you a science fiction fan? A mystery reader? Narrative and memoir? Do you like straight-up non-fiction about humor, politics, history, or theology? Prose has it all!

And by the way, feel free to show me what Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia would look like in poetry. I would guess that not too many people would read those versions. They wouldn\’t get them, because the author would play around with the words, try to say things in new ways without actually saying them, using things like metaphor and alliteration that tie up your tongue and muddle your brain. Also, they\’d throw in archaic words and references to heathen gods we\’ve never heard of because we\’re good people.

With prose, on the other hand, we can learn about all sorts of different subjects, and authors can communicate important ideas and cultural phenomena. Sound boring? This is exactly what Lewis did with Narnia and Pratchett does with his Discworld series. One draws you into a new and exciting world, while the other keeps you on the floor laughing! When was the last time poetry had you on the floor laughing?

Poetry is nice, I\’m sure, for those ten people in the United States who get it. For the rest of us, though, prose is the more interesting, accessible way to go.

I was in third grade when I discovered poetry. It was during “reading” class, and I had just discovered the amazing talent of tuning people out. We had 20 minutes of silent reading time, to be followed by the rest of our regular class time. Halfway through silent reading, I came across the word “fuchsia,” and I stopped.

Who invented a word like “fuchsia?” I knew it was a color, but what did it mean? I put down my book, picked up my pencil and paper, and proceeded to sit through the rest of silent reading and the first fifteen minutes of class writing about what I thought fuchsia could be. And that was my first poem.

Why tell you this? Because I think that poetry is about something deeper than the conveying of information: it\’s about the beauty inherent in everything that there is to convey. Even tragedy or atrocity point to what could be beautiful and no longer is.

Poetry isn\’t necessarily about an argument, or a description, or a collection of thought; and that is why it is wonderful. Taking words that would not normally complement each other, kneading them into submission (but never entirely!), and hoping that what you come up with will catch someone\’s soul besides your own — that is one way to look at poetry.

In more formal verse, the challenge is to go beyond the rules — of expression, depth, etc. — while obeying the rules of form and meter. Such a collision of goals results in poetry that constantly seems like it is trammeling up a few drops of what really is inside of what we can perceive, like oxygen inside a beaker. We can\’t really see the gas, but the form of the glass contains it just long enough for us to get a sense of what it\’s like.

Prose, while able to accomplish more in the areas of formal cataloguing of knowledge, information, and advertisement, can claim no advantage over poetry in storytelling, social commentary, persuasion, or celebration. Many of the greatest contributions to literature (Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, to name just a few) contain what? That\’s right, poetry — because it expresses beauty, emotion, and that tugging behind your navel that means that something important is going on.

And just look at the tomes of prose in the world — anything from tax law to textbooks, poorly written novels to theological treatises — where do we draw the line on what gets published? What is quality? What communicates well? Poetry must work much harder to prove its worth, and the poet to prove her or his gift.

What we have to decide is what is more important to us: the dry, systemic, and categorical communication of human experience in truth that is prose, or the vibrant, painful, beautiful communication that is poetry.



4 Comments to “Clash of the Titans LXXXI: Prose v Poetry”

  1. Steve on April 25th, 2008 12:25 pm

    There’s so much to respond to in this clash!!

    For now, I will only say that while bad prose (a class I see often) is painfully boring, bad poetry (a phrase that borders redundancy) is often deliriously entertaining.

    In fact, the worst prose I ever read (some will remember it from the line “screaming threats such that he will ‘eat the dog’ “) was so gloriously bad, it was poetic.

  2. David on April 26th, 2008 10:27 am

    Poetry is quite often the distillation of prose. It’s the essence of the thought stripped of all it’s trappings and presented to the reader with brevity. In the same way that a picture is worth a thousand words so a good poem is worth a thousand books.

    And where do songs come from? I have 357 songs in my IPOD, all of which are essentially poetry set to music. As much as I love CS LEWIS I can’t imagine listening to any of his books, or a volume of tax law, set to music and playing for hours on end.

  3. Chloe on April 26th, 2008 6:32 pm

    Note: all comments thus far have been composed of pure prose.

  4. Erin on April 26th, 2008 8:15 pm

    All comments thus far are prosaic,
    And yet, though they be not archaic,
    they are meant to berate
    to insult, to debate,
    not to convey a poet’s mosaic.

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