An old white ash in the backyard of the abandoned house next door. It was a dry, cold, still day, weeks after the maple and walnut trees around it had lost their leaves but this tree still had hundreds which had not fallen, very large leaves bigger than your hands. I was out in my backyard with the dogs. With no cause such as a gust of wind and in the space of a few minutes, almost all the leaves of the ash tree fell to the ground. They were dry but heavy and dropped straight down like a bundle of mail or a suitcase, without the ceremony of wafting or drifting. As if the tree had just gotten the worst news in the world, perhaps that another tree it loved on the other side of the world had died, and dropped everything about itself onto its home’s floor that morning upon receiving the news. It was over in a hundred seconds. If I had not seen it I never would have noticed, or I would have noticed and not believed that something so sudden could have happened and thought simply Oh the ash tree finally lost its leaves while I was not paying attention. Not as if everything in the world had suddenly changed for it. In fact afterwards the tree essentially looked the same to me. I stood there a bit stunned watching those leaves fall, and then awhile longer watching the tree, still standing there, anticipating that it might shrug or even uproot itself and go marching off toward the mountain, but it looked unchanged to the rest of the world just as perhaps the rest of the world was now entirely foreign to it, and I remained there as rooted as anything in the yard, realizing how little we witness any of these moments in others, feeling that somewhere around the corner is a phone call or a letter or a conversation where we’ll each know exactly what it’s like to be that tree, and have the same chance to stay, rooted in what we most deeply are, unchanged to others even while dropping everything.
So beautiful, Jeff!
Thanks Emily! This piece was about a month developing, and the prose poem format had to be trimmed, filled in, trimmed again, until I thought it had the right inner rhythm and meaning. Not having written much in that format, it is surprising how much work it took to create the “inner shape” of a format that looks shapeless from the outside.
Very interesting, Jeff. I haven’t read or worked with prose poetry much, so this is enlightening. Do you have a favorite prose-poem poet?
If there’s any poet dedicated to writing in this form, they pursue a very particular insanity! But I like the prose poems that Tomas Transtromer has written, especially “Answers to Letters” and the other prose poems in The Wild Market Square. And W.S. Merwin wrote a book called The Miner’s Pale Children which is characterized simply as “prose” and not prose poems.
I do not have much experience writing in this form and found it much more challenging and interesting than I thought it would be. Like free verse, I’m guessing everyone has their own approach to it, but the process was certainly more complex for me than I thought it would be.
Did you envision / keep to a certain line-length? Is that a consideration in composing a prose poem?
I guess I’m wondering what is it that makes a prose poem a prose poem. Is “paragraph justification” integral?
Here is a helpful short description of the prose poem:
Hi Jeff! I enjoyed your prose very much. Fernando Pessoa pursued many forms of insanity, including prose: “In the ordinary jumble of my literary drawer, I sometimes find texts I wrote ten, fifteen, or even more years ago. And many of them seem to me written by a stranger: I simply do not recognize myself in them. There was a person who wrote them, and it was I. I experienced them, but it was in another life, from which I just woke up, as if from someone else’s dream.” ― The Book of Disquiet
Exquisite combination of imagery and emotion!
Thanks! Much appreciated.