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  #1  
Unread 03-17-2021, 05:35 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Default Prose poem

Alētheia (R1)

Across the street, and at the same time projected upside-down onto my retina, a squirrel leaps from a shaking branch and lands on top of a row of garages. No one can truly know what it is like to be a bat, Thomas Nagel tells us, and the same is surely true of squirrels, but I want to believe this squirrel’s leap is a moment of joy, a clearing in the huddled moments of flea-driven twitching and predation anxiety – and yet, somehow I suspect otherwise. I've been here a year now, and I have seen nobody use these garages. Sometimes a car will park in front of them, but it does not enter. The corrugated roof the squirrel lands on has cracked and started to peel back like the bark of a wounded tree, opening up its insides to the sky. Perhaps no one can know what it is like to be an unvisited garage with a crumbling roof, but many of us, I think, can relate. Heidegger says that truth is like coming across a clearing in the forest, and perhaps it’s the same thing to come across a clearing in a forest of houses, like the one that the garages sit on, on the other side of the road. Through the gap in the house-fronts and over the tops of the garages the backs of three three-storey houses are unhidden to me, up here in my third-floor flat. Standing behind overgrown back-gardens, they are braced with pipework and precarious first-story extensions. It’s an unexpectedly intimate view and is, surely, some kind of truth. Let us not pretend: everyone knows what it’s like to be a house whose private surfaces are unexpectedly exposed to public view, just as everyone knows the fear of years of slow decay as the wind and the rain come in and nobody visits, and everyone wishes for a few drops, just now and then, of the joy we’d like to imagine this squirrel is feeling as it nails another jump.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Changes ('s'=sentence):
s1 "quivering"->"shaking"
s2 "and yet, knowing life as I do, I suspect otherwise"->"and yet, somehow I suspect otherwise"
s3 "I have been living here a year now"->"I've been here a year now"
s4 "Sometimes cars park in front of them, but they not do enter" -> "Sometimes a car will park in front of them, but it does not do enter"
s5 "started to peel back on itself like the lid of a tin of sardines" -> "started to peel back like the bark of a wounded tree"
s9 "they are festooned with"->"they are braced with"
final S: "yet another"->"another"


Alētheia

Across the street, and at the same time projected upside-down onto my retina, a squirrel leaps from a quivering branch and lands on top of a row of garages. No one can truly know what it is like to be a bat, Thomas Nagel tells us, and the same is surely true of squirrels, but I want to believe this squirrel’s leap is a moment of joy, a clearing in the huddled moments of flea-driven twitching and predation anxiety – and yet, knowing life as I do, I suspect otherwise. I’ve been living here a year now, and I have seen nobody use these garages. Sometimes cars park in front of them, but they not do enter. The corrugated roof the squirrel lands on has cracked and started to peel back on itself like the lid of a tin of sardines, opening up its insides to the sky. Perhaps no one can know what it is like to be an unvisited garage with a crumbling roof, but many of us, I think, can relate. Heidegger says that truth is like coming across a clearing in the forest, and perhaps it’s the same thing to come across a clearing in a forest of houses, like the one that the garages sit on, on the other side of the road. Through the gap in the house-fronts and over the tops of the garages and the backs of three three-storey houses are unhidden to me, up here in my third-floor flat. Standing behind overgrown back-gardens, they are festooned with pipework and precarious first-story extensions. It’s an unexpectedly intimate view and is, surely, some kind of truth. Let us not pretend: everyone knows what it’s like to be a house whose private surfaces are unexpectedly exposed to public view, just as everyone knows the fear of years of slow decay as the wind and the rain come in and nobody visits, and everyone wishes for a few drops, just now and then, of the joy we’d like to imagine this squirrel is feeling as it nails yet another jump.

.

Last edited by Matt Q; 03-22-2021 at 04:12 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 03-18-2021, 07:44 PM
Nicholas McRae Nicholas McRae is offline
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I enjoyed the read, many interesting thoughts and phrases.

The only part of it that jumped out at me was the word 'quivering'.

I recall reading a Leonard Cohen passage in one of his books, within a prose poem, where he said something like - 'I'm drunk, this is the alcohol talking, it's too smooth'.

I've written a few smooth prose poems, but I find it can be a fun exercise to tear them apart a bit. Include some disjointed sentences, mix things up and play with words. Sometimes even smooth things out again right in the center for a few striking lines.

I'd be curious what this would become if you attempted that.
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  #3  
Unread 03-19-2021, 12:37 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Lots to like here, Matt. The whole thing flows really well.

I have come across the Thomas Nagel quote before, and it is a good one, although I can't help thinking of Les Murray's "Bat's Ultrasound", which is brilliant - you probably know it already, but here it is again - https://www.best-poems.net/les_murra...ltrasound.html.

Having said that, I think you should limit yourself to quoting just the one philosopher, so I suggest - probably wrongly - that you jettison the Heidegger digression. (I say digression, it's only a sentence, but still ...)

I also wonder about "festooned". I challenge you to find a less much-used word. I'm not sure precarious first-story extensions can be a festooning anyway.

But that's all my nits. And I really like the joyous return to the squirrel at the end. I am, ideally, thinking red. Aren't you?

Cheers

David
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  #4  
Unread 03-19-2021, 01:25 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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This is great, Matt. I don't think you should lose the Heidegger, since it is kind of the theme of the whole piece, the clearing, the "not being hidden"; and the title directs the readers gaze straight to it. Yet I love how the very clearing shifts (how it becomes verb rather than noun) according to the eye of the narrator, as if focus is what clears the view. I love how this manages to be both desolate and joyful at the same time, how the moments of joy and the moments of seeing/vision clear a space in the landscape where one can simply be. Ultimately this is a very direct exposition of what, for some, seem rather arcane concepts in Heidegger's work.

[Just an aside: I have been working on a lot of prose poems myself, and have found that a true margin on either side works wonders for the lay-out, making the pieces seem compact and more contained somehow. The lay-out options here on the Sphere do not support those margins, but I think it is an excellent choice for prose poems. Just sayin'.]

Nemo

Last edited by R. Nemo Hill; 03-19-2021 at 01:27 PM.
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  #5  
Unread 03-19-2021, 01:54 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Matt, it's great you posted this prose poem. It's a great form and one that I'm finding more and more alluring. You do it well. The idea in it is certainly worth the pondering and by the pondering, the idea is separated from the truth and presented, which is what I think art does. That's why art isn't social science and you have a smooth way to bring it out. With the caveat--in case I am followed by someone yelling "Don't change a thing!"--that making a critique is by definition presenting my own ideas and sensations and it's the poster's job to evaluate them, I have a few suggestions for your wise consideration.

I know the Nagle quote but still think Wittgenstein's line about how if a lion could talk we would not be able to understand him stands taller. Since you do it twice, I understand the quoting of philosophers is a trope in the piece. I think I wish the quotes were less on point. That they could be more slant. That's why the Wittgenstein quote came to me while reading. I'm not suggesting you use it. It's pretty worn out. I mean the indirection of it would suggest more perhaps than the bass beat of the Nagle and Heidigger quotes. Please cut the "but many of us, I think, can relate." Let us relate without telling us we can. I guess in a way that is my overriding suggestion. The quotes and expressions such as that are a bit like someone putting their hand firmly on your shoulder when they tell you something. I usually prefer standing to the side so the words sort of wiggle into my ear.

I'm going to ask an obvious question, though. Do you read Robert Walser? His short pieces, some of them feuilletons, and others that are sort of stories? I bring him up because he was truly magical in saying it off-center. I understand you may be familiar with his work but just in case I want to post a link below to a short, one-paragraph piece of his. I think it says what I mean more clearly than I can. I love:

Quote:
Through the gap in the house-fronts and over the tops of the garages and the backs of three three-storey houses are unhidden to me, up here in my third-floor flat. Standing behind overgrown back-gardens, they are festooned with pipework and precarious first-story extensions. It’s an unexpectedly intimate view and is, surely, some kind of truth.
There is wisdom here that's delivered by the clarity of the sight. I won't call it imagery. It's sight and it's that connection to the narrator that makes it wise.

I enjoyed this. Thanks for posting this thoughtful piece.

Best


https://biblioklept.org/2013/09/22/t...robert-walser/
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  #6  
Unread 03-20-2021, 02:47 PM
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Jane Crowson Jane Crowson is offline
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Hi Matt,

I like this very much. The start sets up the idea of things underneath the real - the way we see. then the poem moves to the narrator blurring their notion of ‘see’ through the squirrel (or their imagining of the squirrel), then to further concepts of inside/out - different (and unruly) truths/ways of seeing opening up and closing. The images of the backs of houses is entirely strong, reaches out beyond the narrator to the reader.

Anyway, for me the poem talks of the fragility of truths, but in a nicely image-filled concrete way. I think I remember when I read an earlier version of this suggesting that the ‘I’ was taken out a bit, and I’m not sure if you have, but if you haven’t, it’s not as glaring as it was (fickle reader, I am).

Suggestions/ thoughts. I don’t think the poem needs ‘ knowing life as I do’. It puts a reader out of charity with the narrator and makes them sound a bit self-pitying /deep sigh, which diminishes the poem. Likewise, do we need to know the specifics of how long the N has lived there - I’d switch straight to ‘I have seen nobody use these garages in a year’.

I’m not sure about the ‘tin of sardines’. I like the simile, but it’s a very obvious one, and if the poem was about seagulls it would have a cohesiveness to it that a poem which follows a squirrel lacks. Maybe something with more decay - a rusty tin can, or bark (for the squirrel) or maybe even a human/fleshy simile - broken skin? A very fleshy/human decaying peeling back would locate the feeling of hope and resistance in the narrator whilst avoiding the ‘I’.

I like the ending of this very much, and the structure and all the technical things work. I think you need Heidegger because you’ve got Alētheia and Nagel, and the balance works with them. The reference also takes the poem nicely out of the concrete and briefly into ideas/philosophies but nicely swiftly so we’re relocated in the concrete image soon enough that it won’t turn people off/distract.

Either way, I think this poem works beautifully, in multiple dimensions.

Sarah-Jane
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  #7  
Unread 03-20-2021, 04:21 PM
Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Yesterday not forty feet from where I was sitting near a very urban lawn a hawk nailed a pigeon and dropped to the ground with it. I watched fascinated as it ate most of it, even ignoring pedestrians not ten feet away on a busy sidewalk beyond a very low hedge. It eyed me as much as the pedestrians, who started filming the scene. A squirrel continued to bounce on the lawn, remaining about sixty feet from the busy hawk. Nothing else happened until some leashed dogs appeared among the gawkers. Then the hawk flew up to a tree, after which an apartment clean-up man came with a broom and dust bin on a stick, removing most of the solid material, while the hawk flew closer and watched the clean-up of its meal very closely. Nothing fazed the squirrel, who (which) was bouncing all the time and running at what it must have considered safe distance from the hawk.

An alert squirrel and a very busy hawk. This isn't a critique. Sorry.

What is it like to be a squirrel?
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  #8  
Unread 03-21-2021, 11:34 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.

Hi Matt,

Sarah-Jane says,

“I’m not sure about the ‘tin of sardines’. I like the simile, but it’s a very obvious one, and if the poem was about seagulls it would have a cohesiveness to it that a poem which follows a squirrel lacks.”

...And I think you know seagulls well enough to bring them in for a cameo appearance, don't you think? It would add to the menagerie of philosophy and metaphorical imagery that seems to be at play here, though I know little about the philosophers. Still, I am philosophical, and I get what you’re getting at here, the truth behind the reality. But what I see more of than that is the isolation of the narrator with his thoughts. All thinking is done in isolation, I think. —And I see, too, the interior imagery of the absurdist landscape in this opening passage:

Across the street, and at the same time projected upside-down onto my retina, a squirrel leaps from a quivering branch and lands on top of a row of garages. No one can truly know what it is like to be a bat,")

The more I learn about prose poetry the less I know. My sense of it is that it must, in its essence, possess strong poetic language while remaining free from the confines of poetic structure. I think Nemo’s suggestion of formatting the poem to have true right/left margins to appear compact/confined to the eye is good. It is a nod, ever so slight, to the poetic aspect of the prose poem. It cannot be prosaic.

Can a prose poem be both? Without diminishing either? I’ve often felt certain passages in prose I’ve read to be poetry. Not just in novels (for example Joyce's Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist are filled with poetry) but also in such places as journals kept naturalists, explorers, etc. (I’m a fan of John Muir's writing).

Is prose poetry prose wearing poetic perfume in the form of imagery?
Is poetry that stretches across the page and ignores poetic structure prose simply by virtue of that fact?
Is there a measurement or a formula that identifies and defines it?
Is it the relative width and breath of the subject that defines it as prose poetry?

Sorry for the digression, Matt. It's another fine piece of writing.

.
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  #9  
Unread 03-21-2021, 03:51 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Nicholas, David, Nemo, John, Allen, Sarah, Jim

Many thanks to all of you for your thoughts and comments. I'm glad this one seems to mostly be going down well.

Nicholas,

Welcome to the Sphere. I had 'shaking' until shortly before I posted. I guess the branch is shaking when the squirrel is climbing along it, and quivering after it's leapt, so the former is more accurate, and I've reverted to that. As to roughing the poem up a bit, well, maybe I'll try that once I've got the smooth version working.

David,

I think if I were to lose one philosopher it'd be Nagel. Cutting out Heidegger means cutting our the clearing and the truth the N finds there. I'd originally not mentioned Nagel explicitly and had just "No one can truly know what it's like to be a squirrel", thinking that people who knew Nagel's essay would hear the echo. I'm thinking I might revert to that anyway, because I'm concerned that the addition of Nagel and bats makes that sentence a little bit unwieldy -- and as you suggest, two philosophers may be one two many for this poem. (That said, maybe I could find the Nagel quote about bats and use it as an epigraph). I've changed "festooned" to "braced" for now, but I may go back to it; I do see what you mean about it being overused, but it seemed to have a gentle humour to it, especially with the extensions. "braced" is bleaker, I think.

Nemo,

I'm glad you like it, and as always, I find it illuminating to hear why. I've only very recently started trying to write prose poetry and I'm getting a lot from it. It's certainly very different from just not using line-breaks. And yes, it's a shame there's no easy way to present this on the Sphere as justified text on a portrait shaped page, which is how it looks on my word processor.

John

I'm not sure that the reference to Nagel will stay in (see my reply to David), and I take your point on it being too direct/straightforward. I'll think about losing "but many of us, I think, can relate". I see it as part of a progression, from "no one can know" to "perhaps no one can know but can many can relate" to "everyone knows". That said, I've considered losing the whole sentence because the garage as metaphor also appears at the end of the poem. So hmm. Thanks for the link to the Robert Walser poem. I don't know his work; I'll see if I look out some more. And any more prose poetry recommendations you have.

Sarah

I think the advice to lower the "I" count was on the sonnet from the day before, so you escape the fickle charge this time I've cut "knowing life as do" as you suggest, which is, I think, suggested anyway by "but I suspect otherwise". I changed "I have been living here a year now" to the slightly more ambiguous "I've been here a year now", but just saying "I haven't seen ... in a year" seems to suggest the N garages were used a year ago, which doesn't seem long enough for what I have in mind. Actually, maybe I should go with "I have seen no one use these garages in years" to imply the N has been mouldering away in his flat for just as long ... I see what you mean about the sardine tine and have gone for bark to replace it.

Allen

Thanks for the squirrel tale/tail.

Jim

The sardine lid roof has gone, not sure that if I could manage to squeeze a seagull in to justify it. Re the layout, unfortunately it's not possible to justify text on the Sphere; it'd need Alex to install an add-on. As to what a prose poem is ... well, I don't know that I can give you a definition. Then again, I don't know if I can satisfactorily define poetry, and that hasn't stopped me trying to write it


Thanks again everyone!

Matt
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  #10  
Unread 03-21-2021, 06:43 PM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Typo at the end of L5 Matt. More later.
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