a fog-shrouded minefield and nests of weed

“The borderline between prose and poetry is one of those fog-shrouded literary minefields where the wary explorer gets blown to bits before ever seeing anything clearly. It is full of barbed wire and the stumps of dead opinions.”

Heh. That’s Ursula LeGuin, in a 1983 essay entitled “Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry” collected in her Dancing at the Edge of the World.

Another funny bit:

“Sometimes a Westerner like myself even gets the impression that the territory of poetry lies east of the Mississippi … but generally it seems more like a big fish tank and its inhabitants come rushing out of their nests of weed like sticklebacks in mating season, shouting, Out! Out! Go write novels, go write stories, go write plays and libretti and screenplays and television scripts and radio dramas and descriptions of the universe and histories and speculations on the nature of mankind and the cosmos and all that prose, but keep out of our territory where nothing is allowed to happen except poetry which is none of the above! In here we are poets: and we write for one another.”

She looks at different attempts to define the difference between poetry and prose over the years (Gertrude Stein, Goethe, Shelley and others) but – if I understand the essay correctly – finds them all in some way unsatisfactory, and leads into the back-handedly unifying conclusion that both poetry and prose in origin are a form of translation:

“Increasingly I have felt that the act of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. […] In translating you have a text of words to work from; in composing or creating you don’t; you have a text that is not words, and you find the words.”

Interesting concept. Makes me think of what I was trying to pin down with this Psalm 22-based lament written during NaPo 08:

dried up like a potsherd
(NaPo lament)

I am poured out
like water all my bones
are out of joint

harry says what’s with
the psalm 22-ing poems are just
zipped files they are all

already written you
poets don’t so much
write them as struggle
to unzip them

there are many free tools
for unzipping files on
the web says harry

I bring him close
to the dust of death

my tongue cleaveth
to my jaws

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

One thought on “a fog-shrouded minefield and nests of weed”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s