Poetry & Prose

by | Nov 11, 2007 | Creating Characters, Literature, Pedagogy, The Joys of Publishing

Remarkable, how easy it is to ignore whatever obligation it may be I have to this here blog. I was thinking, actually, of kissing it good-bye on its birthday, which was back in September. But I didn’t, but was busy with my queries and all, and doing time as a substitute, and finding that every day not posting to the blog makes it that much easier to let the whole thing slide, and reading.

The substitute thing is getting kind of old. Spent, last month, too many days in a row in classes full of high school students who simply don’t give a roasted fart. Unfortunately, elementary teachers don’t seem to need to take days off as often as high school teachers do. But I’ve taken the bull by the horns, and have gone to work on those elementary schools I have worked at to become a sort of designated hitter. Seems to paying off, too, as so far I have three good days lined up for this week.

Step two of the agent search, after the query letters have been sent off, is collecting rejection letters. Don’t have enough yet to paper a bathroom, but getting there.

And then there’s all the reading, and the trouble there is that invariably I run across something that suggests itself as a blog topic, so here I am pontificating again.

What happened is, I decided it was time to look up Robert Penn Warren again, except that this time I thought I’d do a more thorough job of it. It has been years since I was blown away by All the King’s Men. I started, this time around, with a relatively late novel, Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War. Warren is the only writer ever to have won the Pulitzer for both prose and poetry, and my conclusion is that in between King’s Men (1946) and Wilderness (1961) Warren had become so involved in poetry that he had forgotten how to write prose. Wilderness is quite bad, but bad in an illuminating way. The characters, despite lots of minute physical description, are figures rather than people. Everything they do is Significant. The grittiest detail of the story, such as the surprising size, for her spindly legs, of the camp-whore’s ‘doup,’ which our attention is drawn to as it, the doup, is being flogged, somehow seems to have its existence somewhere in the world of Platonic forms rather than in the prosaic world of the here and now, which is where King’s Men most definitely takes place. That novel contains countless purple, or as we say, poetic, passages, yet remains solid prose despite that, and even because of that, and is tremendously effective. Wilderness is a bastard thing, neither fish nor good red herring, and I did not give a rattling damn how things turned out for the hero because he was never real in the way that Jack Burden, the narrator of King’s Men, so tragically and so humanly, is.