Eratosphere Forums - Metrical Poetry, Free Verse, Fiction, Art, Critique, Discussions Able Muse - a review of poetry, prose and art

Forum Left Top


Thread Tools Display Modes
Unread 02-08-2021, 11:48 AM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692
Default Prose Poem/Haikus

[Note: I prefer narrower margins - will try to post pics]

Plague Haikus

In college we tried––in a stoned game, hypnosis––but just my girlfriend––went under, her dark––still face Madonna serene–– large luminous eyes––lightly closed against the light––When a mocking boy––in a Dodgers cap––asked What do you want to be––when you grow up she––whispered A cabbage––We laughed but she got her wish––We nest––in houses––hunkering down in––vegetable rows, folded in––on ourselves, fallow

Strange liberation––Right down the yellow center––I walk the plague streets, odd joggers giving––eight feet of berth not to share––the same dreadful air––We are the last ones––on the earth, keeping distance––so scared and wary––Press the cold button––with one knuckle, hold my breath––A steel voice says Walk

Cannibalistic––nightmares crawl out of the mind––with gray plague faces––Ah, humanity––Dramatic stance hand on heart––Can’t laugh at that joke––Coyote nosing––a plastic-wrapped trash-bag pile––in San Francisco swarming pathogens––in crosswalks of New Orleans––the rats are teeming––and disappearing––desiccated ghosts, we flap––like hospital sheets

We have gone to ground––animals with wounded paws––We chew at the pain––We hope the angel––of death cruising through the sky––doesn’t make a stop––Crow on metal post––black knife wing-tips, button eyes––hungry, watching me

Like a newspaper––with a broken back swirled up––then crushed down—our lives, and we wake to dreams––of walls infinite maze––No one finds the door––Closed doors, wooden teeth––Ghost-drawn shades, no one watching––blank-eyed houses, yet––see that TV flash––curtains lit up like stained glass––music through the walls

The stagnant water––stanks up the air with specters––disembodied grief––These days we are all––like that famous blue raincoat––torn at the shoulder––Outside the strange air––will stab your lungs and brighten––the skin with fever

Whiff of someone’s smoke––Choke it out frantic, Murder––We breathe borrowed air––Yet, newspaper crushed––to earth learns to fly again––spreading paper wings––Disinfecting sun––on my shoulders, I will greet––my neighbors again – out of a dank cave––we’ll climb and fearlessly breathe––uninfected air, the dark fatal bird––perched on the shoulder pecking––the neck will have flown––and we might almost––hope that we won’t resume our––routine violence––cursing everything––simply by living how we––live, being the plague

Last edited by Tony Barnstone; 02-08-2021 at 11:54 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-13-2021, 05:40 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
Posts: 4,027

Hi Tony,

I thoroughly enjoyed this. The description of the crow with "black knife wing-tips, button eyes" is brilliant and the whole thing is compelling I think. Nice Leonard Cohen reference. My only crit is wondering what it gains by this staccato haiku structure, rather than being presented simply as a piece of prose poetry without all the dashes.
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-13-2021, 07:42 AM
Orwn Acra's Avatar
Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: NYC
Posts: 2,164

I am also having difficultly in seeing what about this resembles haiku, or how the poem benefits from being called one/a series of them. Mere fragmentation is not, for me, enough.
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-14-2021, 02:13 PM
Jane Crowson's Avatar
Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: UK
Posts: 336


This is worth spending time with. I think sometimes it lets itself fall into melodrama, but it’s clever, resonant, and when it works well it works really, really well, leaving an emotive echo behind.

The first strophe I really like, and the ‘steel voice’ in S2 is fab, too - as is the description of the now-alien streets.

S3 - I find the ‘swarming pathogens’ a bit OTT, but I like the more tangible mention of rats.

S4 and S5 I think are probably descriptions of horror films which I haven’t watched, so I struggle with them a bit more, although there are some stand-out word level choices in S5 - the ‘curtains lit up like stained glass’ is wonderful. The ‘animals with wounded paws’ reads to me a little cliche, but that’s because this is being workshopped - I am not sure I’d pick on it so much as a casual reader.

In S6 I feel a bit lost, apart from the Cohen reference. I don’t understand why fresh air is harmful. However, I love the idea of disembodied grief. If it were grief that made the air stab then I’d be able to work with it a bit more.

I think the end, again, works well - turns the tables & brings back some of the key images from earlier writing - the smoke, the game, the air, paper, crows.

In terms of structure and title, in a first read, I was looking for haiku and this distracted me as I kept searching for disjunction, hinge words and phrases.

It became a game of ‘spot the haiku’ which detracted from the poem itself. They I realised it’s that you’re patterning the syllables 5-7-5. I’d still be wary. Naming it haiku then opens out myriad arguments of people hotly debating what ‘haiku’ is or should be, which I suspect strongly isn’t your intention! For me, I don't read haiku as 5-7-5 syllabic, so I didn't read this as haiku.

From my perspective, this is a multi-layered read, and I don’t mind getting lost in places because you bring things back together at the end. I enjoy the dream-like quality, and some of the word-level choices are standout. I guess if you’re wanting formative comments, I’d go through and just double-check where you might be, in a few places, using more obvious images than you could be. But on the whole, for me, it works.


Last edited by Jane Crowson; 02-14-2021 at 02:21 PM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-15-2021, 06:37 PM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692

Hey Folks!

Thanks for the good readings of the poem. I am glad it seems to be working overall, though I was surprised that the haiku structure seemed to cause so much trouble in being spotted. The poem is broken into 5/7/5 and the (non) line breaks are suggested by the Emily Dickinson dashes. My interest here was in how Dickinson's own dashes were inspired by a fiction writer who used dashes instead of punctuation, and how in Japan the haiku is not written with line breaks, just as a sentence, since the patterning of 5/7/5 is so central to Japanese metrics that it is just assumed that everybody will sense the line breaks without them being put in place. I was also very interested to hear that Japanese prose is often patterned into 5/7/5 -- I believe that the prose epic, The Tale of the Heike, is an example, but my memory could be off there. How interesting that even a prose paragraph would be structure syllabically -- the pattern would be invisible to anyone not primed to look for it! This is a long way of saying that my influences pushed me into this particular and strange form, but that I am not wedded to it. It comes from a manuscript of prose poems, which also includes a ghazal and a sonnet, both of which do what this one does: present the poem as prose paragraphs, with the line breaks indicated by dashes. A number of the other poems were also written as haiku sequences (each line of the poem is one haiku, divided into indented threes), or tanka sequences, or Marianne Moore syllabic stanzas, but I ended up just turning them into prose poems, so all that work is invisible now. I have a bit of intense grading to do, but will attempt a rewrite or two and repost. Thanks again for the good advice. Best, Tony
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-16-2021, 03:21 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,953

Hi Tony,

I'd echo Sarah-Jane's suggestion to lose the word "haiku". What you have here are syllabic patterns, not haiku. Calling them haiku is a distraction, I think.

I'd also suggest that you use a different divider than an em-dash, since this already has an established syntactic function, which (I think) you're not using it for, which makes things a little confusing, and in particular, you seem to use at least one em-dash as an em-dash, which is extra extra confusing. You could use "/" which is pretty standard (non-linebreak) divider in poetry and isn't used in standard punctuation.

Also, if there are 5-7-5 patterns, why do you have other numbers of syllables between dashes? "in San Francisco swarming pathogens", for example, is ten syllables; as is "I walk the plague streets, odd joggers giving". Maybe you've just missed out the divider and these both should be two fives? "We nest––in houses" is 2 and 3 syllables -- or, as above that em-dash is a real em-dash and not a divider?

All that said, I don't really understand why you want to break your prose poem into syllabic patterns. What does it add to the poem?

I'll try to come back for the content of the poem at some point. Just got too distracted by the form!


Reply With Quote
Unread 02-16-2021, 07:35 PM
Allen Tice Allen Tice is online now
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Brooklyn, NY USA
Posts: 5,308

Ma petite chou—chou? I think you would be bettered served by a comma in group 1 between “We nest” and “in houses”.
Reply With Quote
Unread 02-18-2021, 07:52 AM
John Riley John Riley is online now
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,612

I don't have anything to add by way of suggestions. I do want to say I admire the design of this. I'm not sure it is suspended tightly enough, if that makes sense, but it has some great touches. Thoroughly enjoyed.
Reply With Quote
Unread 03-01-2021, 07:02 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,878

The language, phrasing and imagery are so poetic it makes me wonder why you want to format this as prose poetry. It is prose poetry only in that you've arbitrarily chosen the prose form.
You buck against the form by using the emdashes to signal to the reader that it is not what your eyes tell you it is (prose poetry) but instead carefully crafted haiku-like linage that you've strung together in chunks.

I would like to see it released from the emdashes and prose structure. I think it would sit on the page much better. There are some very fine images throughout that would shine brighter with more white space.

Reply With Quote


barnstone, covid, haiku, prose poem, tony barnstone

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Forum Right Top
Forum Left Bottom Forum Right Bottom
Right Left
Member Login
Forgot password?
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Statistics:
Forum Members: 8,158
Total Threads: 20,496
Total Posts: 260,285
There are 173 users
currently browsing forums.
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Sponsor:
Donate & Support Able Muse / Eratosphere
Forum LeftForum Right
Right Right
Right Bottom Left Right Bottom Right

Hosted by ApplauZ Online