I got quite narked with the writer Toni Morrison yesterday. I had previously had a high opinion of the author of ‘Beloved’ and recipient of the Nobel prize for literature:
but on radio 4 yesterday she was heard to express the view that poetry is merely chopped-up prose. NO! No! No no no! I shouted at the radio.
‘Mark but this flea and mark in this how little that which thou deniest me is. Me it sucked first and now sucks thee, and in this flea our two bloods mingled be. Consider, this cannot be said a sin or shame or loss of maidenhead. Yet this enjoys before it woo and pampered, swells with one blood made of two. And this, alas, is more than we would do.’
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vale or hill; when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.’
Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Do those seem like prose to you?
But let’s be fair. Maybe she wasn’t thinking of rhyming verse. Maybe she was thinking of free verse, like this:
Barbed brambles scour the walls. Low, arthritic trees drop ripe apples on the ground. Hedges buffer lawn from no-man’s land; washing straddles the long grass by the garage. On cleared ground, alyssum makes a fresh bridal shower, and on the lawn, searchlights caught in water as a sprinkler slowly arcs the sky. And one day, playing in the long, old grass the lumpy earth gives up an air-raid shelter; pie-crust of concrete and a hole to let the air in. On summer afternoons the spire’s shadow slowly creeps across the lawn. Its finger pointing at our hearts, we fold our deckchairs and decamp into the light. Out of the sun, jets scream of foreign fields, brown bodies on the beaches. All clear now: flats planted.
The above are, respectively, John Donne’s ‘The Flea’, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, Blake’s ‘Tiger’ and my ‘Vicarage Garden’ (I would put someone else’s free verse but they’re mostly still in copyright.)
So, do any of these sound like prose to you?
Chopping lines? Pff – I leave that to the drug-dealers.