Woodside Cottage was the venue for “The Impossible Prose Poem,” which brought together members of Visiting Assistant Professor of English Thomas Devaney’s Creative Writing Poetry Workshop, Haverford’s student-run Poetry Reading Group and others for a spirited poetry reading in November.
The evening event featured original poems by Devaney’s students, who have been writing and studying prose poems all semester, as well as readings of a wide-ranging selection of works in the form by writers such as Charles Baudelaire and Lydia Davis. Jeremiah Mercurio, research and instruction librarian at Haverford, and Alice Boone, a visiting instructor of English, were also among the featured readers, as was Devaney, the author of two poetry collections (A Series of Small Boxes and The American Pragmatist Fell in Love), who read some of his own work.
Devaney says the event’s title references the difficulty of describing the form and how it differs from traditional poetry. “One of the reasons the program was called ‘The Impossible Prose Poem’ is that so many of the definitions of the prose poem are so unsatisfactory,” says Devaney. One of the more helpful descriptions, he says, appears in the introduction to Great American Prose Poems, from Poe to the Present, edited by David Lehman, who writes: “On the page it can look like a paragraph or fragmented short story, but it acts like a poem. … Just as free verse did away with meter and rhyme, the prose poem does away with the line as the unit of composition. It uses the means of prose toward the ends of poetry.”
Among the readers at “The Impossible Prose Poem” event was Pola A. Lem ’13, who read her poem “Boxes”:
We are, the lot of us, people with boxes. They are lit up boxes with pleasant screens that contain all the things my nonrectangular head will not. I carry a little box with me wherever I go. I keep another box at home, a larger one that fits more. I like placing things, thoughts, life itself, in all these boxes. One day, I’ll be placed inside a box of a different sort.