The Line Between Prose and Poetry

line between prose and poetryI got on facebook to reply to one invite and, predictably, spent the next hour distracted by various people’s posts. The one that finally inspired me enough to break the fb tunnel vision was a shared article about anxiety called “Anxiety Is an Invalid Excuse” from Just Cut the Bullshit. Besides the gripping illustration of a hard situation, the post caught my interest because it almost inexplicably blurs the line between prose and poetry.

Here’s the start:

   Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I just got back to my room after a failed attempt to go to class. I’m sitting here, writing this, trying to think of something to email my professor to sugarcoat what I’m feeling, to really drive home the point that class today was unbearable for me…

The first line (bolded here as it is in the original) repeats at the start of each new paragraph. Or perhaps each new stanza – it’s hard to tell. It acts as a refrain, driving home the author’s point, the message that is communicated over and over again to people with anxiety (explicitly or implicitly, verbally or nonverbally): “Anxiety is an invalid excuse.”

The lines following the refrain are written in a paragraph of sentences (with line breaks dictated by the browser rather than the artist’s will). At the same time, they have a rhythm, an emphasis on imagery, and an emotional appeal that lends a feel to the piece that is more like poetry than prose. It’s not hard to picture the piece being recited at a poetry slam, and yet, looking at the formatting and structure, my knee-jerk is to say that it’s prose.

Suddenly, the line between poetry and prose seems less easily defined (a pretty high compliment to the writer IMHO). From a writing standpoint, it’s also an intriguing puzzle for technique: how was it done and how can the effect be duplicated?

Is it the formatting? The lack of continuous line of thought between paragraphs? The intimate nature of the topic? Are those aspects combined with the imagery, rhythm, and use of refrain enough to sort of merge the genres of poetry and prose?

Or is there some detail, some technique that I’ve overlooked?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not up-to-date on more recent poets and poetry techniques. It wouldn’t shock me at all if this has already been discussed, and I am simply late to the table; however, all I’ve been able to find when searching the topic is a discussion of how to define and categorize the two – nothing about how to create a piece that deliberately blurs those lines.

I can definitely see how the details and techniques that I’ve listed would help create the effect. What I’m most uncertain of is whether all those facets are needed, or would a combination of a few work? If it were a less emotional topic, but the other techniques remained, would it still feel like poetry? Or if the paragraphs were less separate or had a line of continuity, would that mar the effect?

I’m honestly not sure. I’m going to have to think about it some more. And probably experiment a bit.

What do you think? Am I simply off my rocker, or is the article poetic prose? (Prosaic poetry? [No]). If you agree with the effect, I’d be very curious to hear what you think the cause might be. Comment away.

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