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With Meeting the Bar, we’re always trying to stretch you (and us) a bit and try different things that might help us to hone our skillz and sharpen our poetic swords. I recently stumbled upon the zumpoems site and met Zsa, who offered a prose to poetry challenge to the people and I loved the idea because I recently read Simon Beckett’s thriller “The chemistry of death” and was so impressed that I wrote a poem, using the material of the first two book pages and realized that even the most “unpoetic” books can inspire us in our writing. So I asked Zsa if he would be in to run this challenge at dVerse for Meeting the Bar once. It really is a challenge and I’m looking forward to what you’re coming up with..should be really exciting… but enough from my side..I’m handing over to Zsa..

Relatively new to the blogging world and dVerse, I am a lover of poetry and particularly fond of Emily Dickenson and Wallace Stevens.  Two of my favorite relatively unknown writers are Kim Greenwood and S.H. Zumwalt. I maintain a site for Zumwalt Poems. You can call me the Zumpoems site administrator — or Zsa for short.

On the zumpoems site, I have started a Wednesday Poetry Challenge — not every Wednesday, but whenever the mood strikes me. I have consolidated the first two of these poetry challenges into one for you enjoyment:

Poetic Prose into Poetry Challenge

What is the different between poetry and prose?

Some might say poetry has evolved so that the only difference is that poetry has stanzas. However, with the increasing popularity of “prose poetry” (poetry written in prose instead of verse) that really doesn’t hold either.

Is poetry more compact, more formal, more stylized, more imaginative, more emotional, more personal, more abstract, more symbolic?

Does poetry use more imagery?

Does poetry use poetic devices such as rhythm, meter, rhyme, alliteration, emphasis on certain sounds?

That is something that each individual poet has to come to terms with.

Every poet and every reader has their preferences. Hopefully these preferences are not static and change as the poet develops, as the reader develops, and, ideally, as the poet and reader, being the same person, develop.

  • For this challenge, pick a passage from a novel, essay or short story that qualifies as prose, but for you is particularly poetic.
  • Then, as a first step, without changing a word or punctuation mark, reformat that so it appears to be poetry.

For example,

From the opening of Theodor Dreiser’s American Tragedy:

Dusk –
of a summer night.
And the tall walls of the commercial heart
of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants –
such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.

And up the broad street,
now comparatively hushed,
a little band of six, –
a man of about fifty, short, stout,
with bushy hair protruding
from under a round black felt hat,
a most unimportant-looking person,
who carried a small portable organ
such as is customarily used
by street preachers and singers.

And with him a woman
perhaps five years his junior,
taller, not so broad,
but solid of frame and vigorous,
very plain in face and dress,
and yet not homely,
leading with one hand a small boy of seven
and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books.

With these three,
but walking independently
behind,
was a girl of fifteen,
a boy of twelve
and another girl of nine,
all following obediently,
but not too enthusiastically,
in the wake of the others.
It was hot,

yet

with a sweet languor
about it all.
Crossing at right angles
the great thoroughfare
on which they walked,
was a second canyon-like way,
threaded by throngs and vehicles
and various lines of cars
which clanged their bells
and made such progress
as they might amid swiftly moving streams of traffic.

Yet

the little group seemed unconscious
of anything
save
a set purpose
to make its way
between the contending
lines of traffic
and pedestrians
which flowed
by them.

  • The second step is where the fun comes in!
  • Take your reformatted piece of prose and convert it into whatever meets your definition of poetry!

For example,

If you found the following prose selection initially:

Time has come for us to leave this island: a way to do such must be discovered.

and reformatted it to

Time has come
for us to leave this island:
a way to do such
must be discovered.

then your next step is to convert from poetic prose to pure poem.

What is a poem? What is poetry? This is based on your own definition and sense of aesthetics.

You may chose to convert the text into poetry by imposing regular meter on the text:

We seek a ship to sail us from this place
And steer us on a course that takes us home

or maybe both meter and rhyme:

We seek a ship to sail us from this shore
to take us to the home we knew before

or maybe you are more inclined to an expressive open style:

Time
Time
Time
Ticking
Like the restless heart
Informing us
We must move on –
Leave this island.
Now.

Taking the example from the opening of Theodor Dreiser’s American Tragedy:

Dusk–of a summer night.

And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants–such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.

And up the broad street, now comparatively hushed, a little band of six,–a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a round black felt hat, a most unimportant-looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers. And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books.

might become

Beneath the dusk some summer night
the stretched up walls of citizens:
such walls in time as lingering tales.

And up a nearby spacious street,
hushed compared to others near,
now walks a little band of six, –
a male past fifty, short and stout,
with hair extending shyly out
from black felt hat tilting east,
an average man, a normal man
with music from an accordion.

And at his right side walks a woman
perhaps five years still his junior,
taller, well-figured, not so broad,
but solid of frame and vigorous,
very plain in face and dress,
and yet attractive in modest ways,
leading with her hand a boy of seven
her other led by hymns and Gospel.

  • So simply select a piece of poetic prose,
  • reformat it to look like a poem,
  • and then as the next step, rework it to meet your standards for poetry. You can stop when you consider it to be a poem (as above examples), or keep working it until you consider it a good or even excellent poem.

There are many resources for selecting prose works. A good starting point is Project Gutenberg Australia.

Best to use something in the public domain (no longer under copyright.)

Have fun!

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