By Holly Iglesias
My life changed the day a poet friend read what I thought was a compact piece of nonfiction and said, “This is a prose poem.” And since that time, about fifteen years ago, it has been the only form in which I write. That uncanny, boxy shape invites compression and difficulty and mayhem because it is a tight container and because it defies the reader’s expectations of what a poem is. Instead of the lovely curvature of lineated verse, a prose poem asserts the value of the mundane—of objects and people and language itself under pressure. In addition, they are evocative objects themselves, recalling postcards, snapshots, to-do lists, diary entries.
I often write from the perspective of the past, developing points of view from archival materials that I collect at garage sales (magazines, schoolbooks, cookbooks, “orphaned” photos, souvenirs, and such). In the workshop, we will peruse some of these materials as an exercise in immersion and in perspective. For example, we’ll consider how a poem based on an old photograph could be written from several points of view: that of the subject of the photo, that of the photographer, that of the recipient of the photo, or that of an outside observer. Each person can expect to create and share at least one poem written during the workshop and leave with ideas on how to apply such prompts in the future.
My first poetry collection, Souvenirs of a Shrunken World, was based on research on the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, my home town; the second, Angles of Approach, toys with grand themes from history, fleshed out and clashing in unlikely encounters (picture a medieval monk on a moped; think Western Civilization in 250 words).
I published my first prose poem fourteen years ago, when prose poetry seemed quite obscure, hard to find, and overwhelmingly surreal. Now it’s everywhere: more lyrical, less obtuse, and it’s often confused with flash fiction and lyrical essays. Both the proliferation and the confusion are good, recruiting new readers and new debates about the nature of poetry and the division of genres.
If you’re into literary criticism and want to learn more about prose poetry, you might consider reading my critical study about prose poetry and gender, Boxing Inside the Box: Women’s Prose Poetry. And if you want to see what kind of poetry might be mined from a 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics or a seventh-grade U.S. Geography textbook from 1915, I hope you’ll register for this workshop.
HOLLY IGLESIAS will lead a poetry workshop at NCWN's 2011 Fall Conference, November 18-20 in Asheville. She is the author of two poetry collections—Angles of Approach (White Pine, 2010) and Souvenirs of a Shrunken World (Kore Press, 2008)—as well as a work of literary criticism, Boxing Inside the Box: Women’s Prose Poetry (Quale Press, 2004). In 2011, she was awarded a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also received grant support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Holly earned a Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Florida State University and has translated the work of award-winning Cuban poet Caridad Atencio. She teaches in the Master of Liberal Arts Program at UNC Asheville.