Sunday, October 21, 2007

poetry versus prose: the cage match

SO I just got back from Montreal via Kingston, having read, in the space of 4 days, to students and profs at Queens' and McGill universities, Queen of the Angels High School for relatively well-behaved Catholic girls, and a large audience of mostly older people at the Jewish Public Library. The last event (the only paid one) was a talk about and reading from The Violin Lover, and the high school trip was to teach the girls how to write poetry; at Queens' and at McGill I did a mixture of poetry and prose, groping towards some kind of understanding of what I myself am doing and, not entirely coincidentally, nudging me towards writing a paper for the Bronwen Wallace conference next March.

was that all one sentence? no? good.

ANYHOW initially I was kinda stuck on the polarities of lyric and narrative, the former being a vertical slice of time, an exploration of all the qualities of the moment, resulting, most often, in images, while the latter is the engine of plot, horizontal, sequential cause and effect, etcetera. I've generally understood these not as genres but as aesthetic imperatives: "stop and explore the now" in tension, always, for the artist, with "go on and tell the story". But when someone at Queens' actually asked me what was the big difference for me,in my own work, between writing prose fiction and writing poetry I realized that it wasn't that at all, it was dialogue. After all, dialogue is the imitation of speech while the rest of it is unambiguously textual.

This may help me think more clearly about Bron's decision to write stories after so many years arguing that narrative poetry could do everything fiction could. Obviously her short stories are longer than her poems, and have flashbacks, and are written in sentences rather than lines, etcetera, but perhaps the polyphony -- the sense of many voices talking -- was key for her.

Have to think about this more. If anyone else out there is thinking about it too, I'd love to hear from you!!

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