Prose vs. Poetry

w. s. di piero on prose and poetry.

Lera Auerbach, Opening.

Prose has a formal spaciousness and operates in an interrogative mood. It’s saner than poetry, and those who think poetry’s derangements are a corrupt or juvenile or self-dramatizing belief are welcome to their measured rationalism. The orders of poetry clarify, enhance, and preserve the disorders of experience. There are voices at my shoulder when I’m writing poems; when I write prose I’m talking back at those voices. Few intellectual pleasures match the satisfaction of becoming lost or disoriented in a passage of prose and trying to understand, in the process of writing, how I got there, then finally finding my way out. Prose is the act of writing toward an understanding. I don’t write poetry to find understanding, or map out its process: understanding is beside the point—the point being expressiveness, the stretched sustained appeal or prayer or shout that a poem can be. Poetry is an act of beseeching, even when it’s asking for nothing at all: it presents as beseeching. I ask of my poems, ‘What do you want of me, from me?’ or ‘Leave me alone a moment’ or ‘What can I offer you?’ Poetry asks the same of me. It’s an entity greater than my own minor being. Prose marks or draws or narrates the extension and limits of my being. Of the two, prose is a better citizen.

— W.S. Di Piero, Threepenny Review, Spring 2019

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