Friday, April 01, 2011

National Poetry Month: Prose Poem

It's National Poetry Month, and suddenly my well has run dry. When I had no particular excuse for writing and posting poems, they popped out, the way babies do sometimes. But just as soon as I tried writing a poem for April 1, the first day of this month devoted to verse, I went into labor of the sort I experienced with my first child: many, many hours of pain and hand wringing and nothing happening.

In fact, not only did the labor last long with little consequence (I finally got a dose of Pitocin after ten hours of labor with dilation to just two out of ten, and that helped speed things up: she was born three hours later), but she was incredibly late. My due date was April 2; she arrived April 30. That would be like the whole of poetry month devoted to expecting her immanent arrival, daily.

She finally did arrive, though I thought she'd never come out. She just took a little more tinkering and tweaking than we expected. And what a masterpiece! Some of my best work yet. This month we celebrate a golden milestone: Lesley turns 30 on the 30th.

This year for National Poetry Month I would like to present poetic forms. I want to try new forms I haven't before, like a cinquain, sestina, triolet, etheree and a rondel. I may write in forms I've already tried, like villanelle, sonnet, tanka and haiku. Besides attempting my own, I'll also post examples by other poets.

Today's form: prose poem. Prose poems are prose pieces that aren't broken into verse lines, but still include other poetic traits, such as metaphor, figures of speech, lyricism, and heightened emotion. One way of writing a prose poem is a letter, which I'm using. It's followed by a sweet prose poem by Amy Lowell.

Here's my prose poem to the baby I waited and waited for in our little house in Pasadena, California, thirty years ago.

To My Unborn Child

Dear Baby ~

I was thinking of you so I thought I’d write.

How are things? I’d love to hear from you.

Your room is ready.

I filled two brown grocery bags with avocados from the trees and the ground out front. I only picked the ones that were heavy and ripe, like my breasts. Dad took them to work to give away.

Did I mention your room is ready? I straightened the picture above the crib last week. I’ll teach you how to do that. See your grandpa taught me. He did it constantly. He couldn’t go through a room without straightening a picture. It’s OK if you don’t get it right at first. You just have to practice. After a while you’ll be straightening things for everybody like Grandpa.

Madeleine, our beagle, keeps misbehaving. When we let her outside, she keeps digging under the fence and getting out. One of these days she’s going to get hit by a car. We should probably tie her up. What a pain. I hate giving her a spanking. I just really have no idea how to train her.

Well, I miss you. Wish you were here.

I love you,

She came, and then we had to learn everything;
but the loving came oh so naturally

The baby who finally arrived

And another prose poem:
by Amy Lowell
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
     The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. 
     Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.



Elisabeth said...

My first born came late too, Ruth. Due on 6 February she arrived on 17. By then I was tearing out my hair with the waiting.

How did you manage to wait so long, almost the equivalent of a month, and one year before me, or thereabouts? My first born turned twenty nine last February.

I enjoy these prose poems very much.

Here's one I've just now tried: Tea for Pleasure

My mother pours tea from her teapot, pressed metal sides, a black nipple knob.
My mother pours tea time and again. She has no need for cosies. Cosies are for gentle folk who drink tea at their leisure, who drink tea for pleasure, and not from despair.

My mother pours tea and drips splash the bench to join the spilled sugar crystals. Sugar and tea congeal into treacle, thick layers of gold glass, an invitation to ants that will come in the night, in the dark, in the silence.

The ants line the bench like dropped metal shavings. They are visible only by daylight. My mother takes a dishcloth and wipes. A funeral for the ants and her ritual is done.

Thanks Ruth for a lovely post.

Ruth said...

Oh, Elisabeth, this is extraordinary.

First our firstborn children in similar times and circumstances.

And your prose poem! You just wrote it here and now, in this little comment box? It is perfect, a whole piece, just as a prose poem should be, with so much evoked, and completed. What's especially synchronous is that while I was reading some prose poems this week, I found this one by Russel Edson, called Metals, Metals. So cool that you wrote metal shavings in light of that. :-)

Thank you for this sweet prose poem!

steven said...

hi ruth - in my own experience nothing worthwhile arrives suddenly but that's a very very long time to wait for a baby! entirely worth the wait . . . . steven

Ruth said...

Steven, you can imagine it was quite a happy day when she came! And she didn't seem to be late at all, she looked to be right on time. So it was a miscalculation somewhere along the line.

joanny said...


Beautiful newborn, she looks perfect. They come when they are ready, my first was past due, the second came a couple of months early, such is life.


VioletSky said...

I love that second pic of Lesley covering her face!!
How nice of you to write her a letter to encourage to come home asap.

Brendan said...

There's something irresistible to me about the prose poem -- a marrying of the forms, poetic language poured into a tall glass of prose. It works both ways -- there are powerfully poetic fiction writers (Faulkner, Joyce, McCarthy) as there are wonderfully didactic poets who find a more fluid freedom in verse into which to assay their Themes, from Ovid's "Art of Love" to Wallace Stevens "Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction." And there are wonderful narrative poets like Robert Frost and Stephen Dobyns who use the conventions of poetry to tell a great tale with, and fiction writers like Melville whose poetry gives their prose seas a roaring depth. Loved your verse letter -- it has all the yearning of a mother for a child who hasn't yet showed up at the breast -- Verse letters are powerful instruments, I wrote them daily for about six weeks after my younger brother died. The mid-ground between poetry and prose is where the really fun stuff happens, I think. Great post, Ruth.

Dan Gurney said...

Ruth that's a very evocative prose poem. I love the part about her picking up where Grandpa left off. It seems in many ways grandchildren resemble their grandparents as strongly as their parents. Great photos, too. Your daughter looks very much like our Elizabeth as a newborn. It's the generic baby look, I guess.

lesleyanne said...

what a beautiful post, by my beautiful sweet mother. thank you for the prose poem, i'm sitting here at work with tears in my eyes. i always wished that i had inherited your creative writing skills, but i inherited many other wonderful things from you.

i love you and i'll be seeing you soon!

erin said...

your prose letter is so naive, isn't it, not knowing how to even train the dog, and yet, and yet, what will come into your life and who will train who? we said this of our first born. she had us jumping loops.

i miss this of marriage, although i miss very little. but i miss the sacredness of history born together. to try to carry it with worth upon the solitary back is an entirely different thing. as a couple a birth is a whole carriage, a sedan of sacredness, that chair carried with poles by two people. as a solitary mother it is an egg and i am quiet and careful not to break it.

there are rules for poetry? ha~

i am so very glad you are out here writing and growing and sharing and showing. i look forward to learning from you this month and further on.

happy poetry month, ruth. perhaps it's spring? my well seems a little dry too.


ellen abbott said...

April 30 is a good day to be born. It's my birth day too.

my first born was only a day or so off her due date but was in no hurry. 12 hours after my water broke she was still piddling around. they gave me pitocin too and two hours later she was here.

A Cuban In London said...

What a superb piece of poetry. The contrast between your opening and the two subsequent poems is so stark that they could have been written by two different people. You're an amazing poet. And poems do have the tendency to pop out when you least expect them. Literature is an art, just like music, painting and dance.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

ds said...

So it was you--YOU who did that to me, your wild Woman-in-Labor spirit, hovering then diving toward the next unwary victim (albeit much later and in a different season) when all along I thought it was the future CS, dictating her world even in utero. Other than being at home--which I was for about half the time--you have described my experience exactly. Oh, when she swam out...

Your letter to beautiful Lesley is beautiful. Prose poems suit you. All poems suit you. But--the waiting, the longing, the fear, the promises made to an unknown soul--yes. Yes.

Thank you for the Amy Lowell. But as ever, thank you for you.

More Than Meets the I said...

Such a lovely post, Ruth! Poems popping out like spring flowers, can you imagine?
My daughter was due on April 4th 2005. I think that she liked being inside mum's cosy womb. We had to provoke labour on April 9th, but I had no contractions, so I had a cesarean. I have very mixed feelings about that time of my life, and this is why I enjoy listening to other women talking about it. Your prose poem is as sensitive as all your other writings. Thank you for Amy Lowell and her perfect images of sunshine and water.

P.S. Your floral template is exquisite :)

Jane Lancaster said...

lovely post for Spring. Makes me think of lamb's frolicking. I was a late baby supposed to come on mum's birthday but I was 3 weeks late. Is that photo of you?? She said she sat in the bath and tried to push me out with her hands...

neighbor said...

I love the phrase: your room is ready.

I spend a lot of time in the "waiting room" so know how it feels to not have something "delivered" when you hope it will be.

Therefore, I can't promise a once-a-day poem over at Temporary Reality, but at least I received one today. Please visit when you can :-)

Babs-beetle said...

What a lovely post :)

Friko said...

This is a wonderful post. (I feel obliged to add that I am serious - not dishing out meaningless praise)

Your letter to your unborn child portrays you as 'comfortable', chatty, a letter from mummy to child wholly unselfconscious and welcoming, not even noticeably impatient in spite of your wish for the baby's speedy arrival. If you come up with a piece like this on a bad day, there's little hope for those of us who find poetry truly difficult to attempt, much less master.

Amy Lowell is, of course, a true master of the art, no doubt about it.

A conversation about criticism in blogging, there's a thought. I know one or two other people who often feel irritated when complete rubbish meets with 'Wow'. But how to go about it without hurting feelings? Perhaps we could indeed find a way to discuss this.

who said...

and if in the end
as if it were pretend
cause that's how it often goes

as if never ending
her mommy was sending
her daughter to life knowing

those long nights of past due
on the edge of release and renew
best reward for the longest time comming

who said...

sorry, typo, should have been coming

Deslilas said...

Thanks for sharing.Sharing emotions without sharing the situations.
Here the link towards a beautiful song by Maxime Le Forestier
"Mon frère"
I've a brother and nevertheless I'm deeply moved by this song about an unborn brother.

Deslilas said...

Toi le frère que je n'ai jamais eu
Sais-tu si tu avais vécu
Ce que nous aurions fait ensemble
Un an après moi tu serais né
Alors on n'se serait plus quittés
Comme deux amis qui se ressemb
On aurait appris l'argot par coeur
J'aurais été ton professeur
À mon école buissonnière
Sûr qu'un jour on se serait battus
Pour peu qu'alors on ait connu
Ensemble la même première.
Mais tu n'es pas là
À qui la faute
Pas à mon père
Pas à ma mère
Tu aurais pu chanter cela
Toi le frère que je n'ai jamais eu
Si tu savais ce que j'ai bu
De mes chagrins en solitaire
Si tu ne m'avais pas
fait faux-bond
Tu aurais fini mes chansons
Je t'aurais appris à en faire
Si la vie s'était comportée
Elle aurait divisé en deux
Les paires de gants
Les paires de claques
Elle aurait sûrement partagé
Les mots d'amour et les pavés
Les filles et les
coups de matraque.
Toi le frère que je n'aurai jamais
Je suis moins seul de t'avoir fait
un instant pour une fille
Je t'ai dérangé tu me pardonnes
Ici quand tout vous abandonne
On se fabrique une famille.

Ginnie said...

Oh, sweet Ruthie. I didn't know about the prose poem and here it is, full of a memory from so long ago...when we were there with you. Lesley's birth has new meaning in this format. Thanks for birthing not only her but this poem!

And yes, this is coming to you straight from Oslo. :) Astrid says HI, too.

Susan said...

So much to read between the lines in your prose poem/letter to your sweet girl. The photos are so beautifully makes me catch my breath. How many times I sat just like that when I was suffering from exhaustion, wondering whether I would make it as a mother.

I need to read more of Amy Lowell.

Shari Sunday said...

I loved your prose poem and the sweet pictures. I remember it as a very special time waiting for my children to be born. My birthday is April 30, too. I don't really believe in horoscopes, but I do have an unusually large number of friends and relatives (including my daughter) with birthdays in April and early May when I was actaully due to be born.

Vagabonde said...

I like your prose poem, but to tell you the truth I cannot tell when a piece of prose is a poem or just a short piece written poetically – but then I have also problems when people are making jokes in English – I guess it is because of the language. My first daughter came maybe 2 days before or after the due date I can’t remember, she came on the 29th of Sept. What I remember was that I was in hard labor for hours and they finally had to use forceps. That night there was an earthquake in San Francisco and my room was on the top floor of the UCA building on a hill in SF. We took a picture of her the next morning next to the front page of the newspaper talking about the earthquake. We sent this picture to friends saying that her arrival had created the quake. Unfortunately when robbers came to our house that pictures was in one of the boxes they took.

Montag said...

Jump into a watercolor poem.
Set sail on a Winslow Homer ocean, an unforgiving medium which shows our faults transparently: the Gulf Stream hurricanes and dismasted sailboats of love... and then the lullaby aftermath adrift...

Dutchbaby said...

Wonderful how you traveled backwards in time to capture your feelings of anticipation and trepidation.

April 30th is a big holiday in Holland. Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) is celebrated on Queen Juliana's birthday every year. I think Lesley must be royalty.

cathyswatercolors said...

Ruth i'm tearful now. What a gift for your daughter to treasure forever.
My girlfriend's mom just passed on and she is finding all kinds of letters and poems that her mom wrote,treasures beyond belief. How fortunate and such a gift,to help us through our journey. God knows we all need guidance. xoxxo cb

cathyswatercolors said...

Oh gee forgot to mention about the new header ... sigh beautiufl. The baby photos,gosh, remember everything we had to learn.Oh my, gee, i just can't believe all we learned and with such grace. We are blessed. Smiles all around. xox cb

Ruth said...

Joanny, a couple of months early, how frightening. Thank you. Maybe we be patient for what comes late, and ready for what comes early.

Ruth said...

Violetski, I saw the two photos in the photo album, and I was struck by us both covering our faces. It is strange and wonderful to think of the task of survival, for parent and child.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Brendan. The gift of verse letters you gave your brother after he died is a beautiful gift to yourself, and to him in you. What a seed you planted, for him to keep growing beyond the grave.

I am reading a quite wonderful new book called My Way: Speeches and Poems by Charles Bernstein. He is arguing for a less bound interplay of poems and prose, like perhaps writing a critical analysis of an essay in verse, or writing a speech like a letter. To mix up genres and erase rules and edges so that language becomes new again. There is no end of inspiration in it.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Dan. It's true, these family resemblances. We are always talking about who got what from whom. There isn't a thing we can do about what swims in our blood that gets passed on to our children and their children, and it's sometimes delightful, and sometimes not, what pops up that we recognize. :-) I am thinking mostly of myself . . .

Ruth said...

Wesrey, sweet girl. Can it really be 30 years? And you will get in a plane with your husband and fly to us? Think of it.

Ruth said...

Erin, my friend. I'm glad you felt the naiveté. Yes. I knew nothing, even though I had babysat nieces and nephews. I was 25. Yes, she taught us.

I am thinking much about this precious apprenticeship of childhood.

I smile (quoting you) at your question about rules in poetry. The only rules you need are erin's rules. It is quite fitting actually as I think about it. I think you have created or found a new genre, for every time I read you I feel I've found something new, yet something that was in me. That is the best poetic "form" and the only one worth a dickens. For me, forms are fun puzzles that create little freedoms while being restrictive. They push me out of habits of thought and writing. Like going away for a couple of days, it's still my life, but I am inside different walls, and inspiration floods in.

Ruth said...

Ellen, your birthday, and Shari's, and Dutchbaby tells me April 30 is Queen's Day in Holland. May you and all the April 30 queens live long!

Ruth said...

Dear Cuban in London, welcome and many thanks for your kind praise. Have a wonderful day.

Ruth said...

Oh, ds, I am sorry, and yet also strangely glad, that you went through something like this long wait too. It is another conjoining in our twin-set connections. :-)

Your kindnesses about my poetry mean so much to me, and how you never fail to connect on the plane that words only try to convey.

Ruth said...

More Than Meets the I, thank you for your very kind visit. Your birth experience does sound rather traumatic, but that things have worked out well. I, too, am fascinated by other stories of childbirth, and the waiting beforehand.

I'm glad you like the floral header. Thank you, and happy spring!

Ruth said...

Jane, thank you. I love your comment. First, Lesley's initials are: LAM. I always called her my little lamb. Second, yes, the photo is me in a moment of exhaustion. Third, the image of your mother trying to push you out in the bath after waiting so long, conjoining the two prose poems in this post, is so very touching.

Ruth said...

Hi, Neighbor. Thank you. And thank you for your wonderful poetry month post, your honesty, and for the mascot, who wings things from the garden our way. I was so pleased to see your poem and your trope, given the post-poem I was already working on, quite synchronously.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Babs. :-)

Ruth said...

I thank you sincerely, Friko, for your sincerely expressed words of praise.

I trust you utterly, for you speak your mind honestly, and that is very much appreciated. Let's keep thinking about how to address our desire for honest feedback, constructive criticism, and meaningful interactions at our blogs. I find this so exciting. And believe me, I mean that.

Marcie said...

These are beautiful. The letter to your daughter is hearfelt and lovely..and the story of her birth - similar to so many other 'firstborns'. Love at first sight!

Robby said...

So, so, so sweet.

Ruth said...

Daniel that is a very poignant song. It is so provocative to imagine life with someone, out of the loss of them. Merci.

Ruth said...

Boots, thank god you were there with us at the birth of our children. How forlorn I would have been without family.

Greetings to Astrid, to you, and to your friends in Oslo, before you embark on your sea journey. Bon voyage!

Ruth said...

Susie, thank you, my friend, for recognizing what is between the lines, and in the photo, the exhaustion and trepidation. No sadness there, only the reality of a baby who slept no longer than 30 minutes at a stretch in daylight hours. :-)

Ruth said...

I apologize, Dusti, for jumping over you! And your oh so sweet poem. The hope therein, the perseverance, the understanding. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Shari. You too with the special birthday! Who knows what magnetisms the sun and moon and stars create in our lives. For me, it's as easy to believe it as not to believe it. I don't mind one way or another, but I like it when special links occur.

So you were an early bird.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, the earth contracted as your body did, how momentous. I'm so sorry about the photographs. For a person who attends so much to history and all its beautiful details, this is a great loss indeed.

Ruth said...

Montag, I like your prose poem, an ade aleke, which is the best new way of writing. As I told Brendan, I am reading a wonderful new book called My Way: Speeches and Poems by Charles Bernstein, in which he argues for a mix of all sorts and forms of language in response to all things. Which is precisely what you did here. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, you gave me the biggest grin of the week with your comment!

Ruth said...

Cathy, no matter where we get to about digital vs. paper, the treasures your friend is finding just can't go away. We can't let it. I'm glad you like the tulips header. These were out front here, right outside the window where I now sit in a new study we've set up. I am so happy, and I think I will have to plant more of these in the fall, as they stopped coming up a while back. Thank you for meeting me here this way today, my friend. xox

Ruth said...

Thank you, Marcie. The first time is awfully hard, with no personal reference. And yes, total and complete surrender to the love when she arrived.

Ruth said...

Robby, thanks so much. :-)

Pauline said...

Lovely poem - lovely baby :)

You have inspired me to try some new poetic forms, too. I've never heard of an etheree - I'm off to give it a whirl!

California Girl said...

Wonderful responses to your beautiful thoughts. Elisabeth's poem is particularly moving.

Only a mother knows the feelings you expressed. The love does come immediately. That's the part I remember best.

And I love the Amy Lowell and I'll have to read more of her work as well.

Barb said...

You'll be birthing lots of poetry this month Ruth. Just like childbirth, you'll forget he pain after the word finally cry and start breathing on their own. Good Luck!

neighbor said...

Ruth, I'm so glad you stopped by TR :) and can't wait to read your take on moths.

Margaret said...

Speechless. Really. My heart is full of memories. What a great start for poetry month.

Ruth said...

Pauline, yippee for inspiration!

Thank you for your kind words. I love this stage of Lesley's babyhood.

Ruth said...

Hi, California Girl. The comments have been wonderful. I am still just stunned by Elisabeth's spontaneous (I think) prose poem.

I'm glad you will explore more Amy Lowell. I need to as well.

Have a great day, let's hope for some warm weather soon.

Ruth said...

Barb, I hope you're right—thanks!

Ruth said...

Hi, Neighbor, you're welcome, I enjoyed the visit at TR. I hope you'll like the poem I'll post today.

Ruth said...

Margaret, I'd love to hear your stories. I used to love listening to my mom's stories about some of her 8 childbirths.

Happy Poetry Month!

Margaret said...

Oh Ruth, I glanced at that cherub "cross eyed" newborn face and it makes me so want one (again). Such big sweet eyes she had and I love her HAIR. Two of mine had TONS of hair when they were born. Fuzzy little bird heads... My longest labor was 6 hours (Will) and my shortest was 1 hour, 1 push! Spencer was about 2 hours, 2 pushes - went from 3 to 10 in roughly 7 minutes. Talk about CRAZY! Two natural births... I will take an epidural ANY time. Such great memories... Thanks for this post. You know, your poetry is so beautiful... I'm looking forward to you trying new forms this month!

Stratoz said...

quite a poetry month you had.

Jeanie said...

Oh, Ruth -- what a wonderful way to celebrate Lesley. I should think she would treasure this poem above all gifts. And it is a gift.

Shari Sunday said...

Ruth, I don't know how I missed this post. It was so touching to me. I remember waiting for my daughter to arrive. I was in an apartment in Pennsylvania and my son was at school and my husband was across the country driving a truck and trying to start his own business. I was lonely for my old job and my family and friends in Tampa. I ate gallons of Peaches and Cream Ice Cream. Finally, I met a neighbor who was also pregnant and we had hot tea in the afternoon and watched soap operas. I had a high risk pregnancy and Jaime was early, only 4 lbs. 5 oz at birth. I think she was all made of ice cream. The pictures are SO SWEET.