Poetry Friday: 1927 (part 4)

As much as I want to post another Don Marquis poem (and may, if 1927 lasts long enough), I shift now to another American poet, Sherwood Anderson, I have never read before but am impressed by.  In 1927, Anderson published an anthology called A New Testament, and it’s a strange but compelling set of poems.  I think the format is almost that of “prose poetry”, but I hope those of you who know what that means will tell me if I’m correct.  Here’s a poem to ponder: “The Man with the Trumpet”—

I stated it as definitely as I could.
I was in a room with them.
They had tongues like me, and hair and eyes.
I got up out of my chair and said it as definitely as I could.

Their eyes wavered. Something slipped out of their grasp. Had I been white and strong and young enough I might have plunged through walls, gone outward into nights and days, gone onto prairies, into distances—gone outward to the doorstep of the house of God, gone into God’s throne room with their hands in mine.

What I am trying to say is this…
By God I made their minds flee out of them.
Their minds came out of them as clear and straight as anything could be.

I said they might build temples to their lives.
I threw my words at faces floating in a street.
I threw my words like stones, like building stones.
I scattered words in alleyways like seeds.
I crept at night and threw my words in empty rooms of houses in a street.
I said that life was life, that men in streets and cities might build temples to their souls.

I whispered words at night into a telephone.
I told my people life was sweet, that men might live.

I said a million temples might be built, that doorsteps might be cleansed.
At their fleeing harried minds I hurled a stone.
I said they might build temples to themselves.


2 comments on “Poetry Friday: 1927 (part 4)

  1. graham says:

    I like this poem.
    I’m not sure this would fall under “prose poetry,” though that is a line that is still beind debated by both scholars and practitioners.
    free-verse, certainly, it doesn’t adhere to structure, but most “prose poetry” implies also that it’s laid out the page in the style of prose; this is one of the things that leads to questions such as “Is it poetry or prose?”
    this is clearly a poem, near the end it resembles an enaphra (sp?) and it jumps from page format to page format (or that might be the blog) but I wouldn’t call it a prose poem by any stretch.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      I liked it too, Graham. The reason I was on the fence about poem format is that its approach was really distinctive–the only line breaks occurred at the ends of sentences, and at one point that means a whole paragraph (the second stanza) has absolutely no line breaks. It’s essentially a long list of paragraphs, all but one of which are a single sentence long.

      So, if that’s not a prose poem, what is? How do we distinguish “prose poetry” from “poetic prose”? I’ve always been curious about this, and you’ve been studying it, so lay some knowledge on me (if you would). 🙂

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