Tag Archives: The Name of the Wind

#amwriting: poetry in prose

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PD Both poetry and prose have evolved over the last two-hundred years. In 1816 words were art, and they were frequently crafted into a piece  as if you were decorating a house–the author placed them in such a way as to be artistic as well as impactful.

Think Dickens, and Byron, and Mary Shelley.

A random comment in another forum led me to think about poetry and prose, which of course, led to a blog post.

Much of the time, modern poetry doesn’t rhyme. And even without rhyme, some authors write poetic narratives. But if it doesn’t rhyme, what makes poetry “poetic?” And where does it fit into modern prose?

As always, I turned to the “college of the internet” and did some research. Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge says, “Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.” (End quoted text.)

In his April 19, 2012 blog post for Harriet, (the Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news) titled The Difference Between Poetry and Prose,  Martin Earl says a number of things.

Quote: “Prose is all about accumulation (a morality of work), while poetry as it is practiced today is about the isolation of feelings (an aesthetics of omission).” 

Well, that didn’t help. Taken individually, I understood each of the words that make up that sentence. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what Mr. Earl intended to say by combining them so incomprehensibly.

I realized I would need an interpreter. So I prevailed upon Stephen Swartz, author, and professor of English at a well-known university, who is also a good friend of mine.

Stephen explained what Martin Earl may have meant: “I can only take that to mean that the writing of prose is, e.g. like a description, a compiling of details. a productive activity. I agree with the definition of poetry being a limitation of words/details in the service of presenting something esoteric such as thoughts and feelings, abstractions rather than the concrete. For prose, we accumulate words; for poetry we try to do more with less.”

Now THAT made sense to me.

However, I did find a portion of Martin Earl’s post to be understandable without the aid of my friendly neighborhood professor. Toward the middle, he explains the evolution of how poetry became prose, places it in a historical context and then explains that continued progression away from poetic prose in modern literature.

Earl writes, “In both classical and modern languages it is poetry that evolves first and is only much later followed by prose, as though in a language’s childhood, as in our own, poetry were the more efficient communicator of ideas.”

He goes on to say, “With the spread of the printing press after 1440, texts no longer had to be memorized. Poetry’s inbuilt mnemonics (rhyme, meter, refrain, line breaks) were no longer essential for processing and holding on to knowledge. Little hard drives were suddenly everywhere available.” (End quoted text.)

That makes complete sense to me on a personal level. I can remember anything I can set to a rhyme, or make into a song.

I believe using rhymes as mnemonics (which is defined as a memory device) is fundamental to human nature. We developed complex languages within our tribal communities while we were still in Africa, before the great diaspora. It was there in the earliest stages of our humanity that we gained the ability to describe the wider world to our children. With that, we had the capacity to understand and describe the motives of another person.  We could explain the how and why of an incident. We saw the divine in every aspect of life and developed mythologies combining all of these concepts to explain the world around us and our place in it.

Printer_in_1568-ceWe learned ways to memorize  and pass on ideas as abstract as legends or sagas. Through those stories, we could learn larger lessons from the mistakes and heroism of our ancestors.  My theory is that we developed poetry at the same time as we developed language.

Every tribe, every culture that ever arose in our world had this same tradition of passing down stories and legends using rhyme and meter.  Rhyme combined with repetition and rhythmic simplicity enabled us to remember and pass on wisdom to our children.

Wikipedia describes poetry as: “a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning.”

It also describes prose as: “the most typical form of language. The English word ‘prose’ is derived from the Latin prōsa, which literally translates as ‘straight-forward.’”

In poetry, saying more with fewer words forces us to think on an abstract level. We have to choose our words based on the emotions they evoke, and the way they portray the environment around us. This is why I seem to gravitate to narratives written by authors who are also poets—the creative use of words elevates what could be mundane to a higher level of expression, and when it’s done well, the reader doesn’t consciously notice the prose, but they are moved by it.

We have no need to memorize our cultural knowledge anymore, just as we no longer need the ability to accurately tally long strings of numbers in our head.  We’ve begun to like our books with straightforward prose. Flowery language is no longer acceptable in the books we read.

This is also true of modern poetry.

The love of poetry continues, and new generations seek out the poems of the past while creating powerful poetry of their own.

Authors craft incredible narratives, often without knowing they are poets.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss 2nd coverPatrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind:

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

“The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.” (End quoted text)

That is some powerful prose. It is both straightforward, and poetic.

That is where craft comes in. Choosing words for the emotions they evoke and the way they portray the environment the author has imagined is what lends great narrative prose its power. We can still appreciate beauty combined with impact when it comes to our prose.

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What I’m reading

name of the wind  -patrick rothfussSome authors write so well you live the work with them. I love that when that happens. I’ve been reading a lot, as you probably know, and I love to talk about what I have recently read.

Last week, on Best In Fantasy, I reviewed book one of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of The Wind.  I had this to say about it: “The blurb didn’t really sell me, but when I was deciding whether or not to purchase this book, I noticed that the negative reviews were written by people who are not really into reading for pleasure, and some of the negative reviews seemed written by moderately illiterate non-readers. To me, this is a mark of a classic—Tolkien, Jordan—all the great literary-fantasy authors attract 1-star reviews by people whose favorite genre is whatever is written on the toilet-paper wrapper. My instinct was correct—this book is a true classic, both literary and fantasy.” 

I have to say, I loved his cover, also. It totally reflects his style of writing, beautiful, harsh and mysterious.

Desprite Measures Deborah JayBefore that, I read “Desprite Measures” by Deborah Jay. That book is completely different, being an urban paranormal fantasy-romance. I had a great time, and this is what I said about it: “Okay–we all know the cover above looks like I’ve taken a side-trip into a lurid romance. Don’t be deceived by the cover! Yes, there is some graphic sex, and yes there are other elements that might hint that grandma has taken a dip into a lurid romance novel, but stick with me! Desprite Measures by Deborah Jay is a modern day urban fantasy. It is not a deep book, but is perfect for whiling away rainy afternoon. “

Dragula, Nicole Antona CarroI had been in wacky mood for a couple of weeks. During that time I also read Brawn Stroker’s Dragula” By Nicole Antonia Carro. Was I surprised: “I bought Brawn Stroker’s Dragula, by indie author Nicole Antonia Carro on a whim. When I read the title, I was expecting something incredibly camp and lightweight, but that is certainly not what I got. Instead, I found a tale full of people I could call friends, and situations I hope my friends never find themselves in!”  I absolutely enjoyed the book.

Happy Hour In Hell, Bobby Dollar 2 - Tad WilliamsAs everyone knows, I love indie authors, but I also love certain authors whose work I’ve been following since long before the indie option was even thought of. One of those authors is Tad Williams. He is famous for writing one of the most enduring fantasy series ever, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but he also has written  some excellent urban fantasy. His style is hard-edged. A few weeks ago I read “Happy Hour in Hell, Book 2 of Bobby Dollar.” I had this to say about it:  “Okay, now we are talking deep. Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams takes us from the bowels of Heaven to the heart of Hell, and its a rough ride, and a heck of a good story…. If you like your angels as painted by Michelangelo, you are in the wrong place. Bobby isn’t that sort of an angel. Bobby gets in and does Heaven’s dirty work with his bare hands. He’s a hard-boiled detective, a bad-boy, and he’s the sort of angel my mother warned me about. But he’s also just the sort of angel you want on your side when you suddenly find yourself dead, and your soul is being judged.”  That is one entertaining book.

the eyre affair jasper ffordeSpeaking of entertaining, I finally got around to reading “The Eyre Affaire” by Jasper Fforde, and I found it to be painfully funny: “Over Thanksgiving, my son, Dan, pressured me to drop everything and read The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Published in 2000, the Eyre Affair was Fforde’s first novel. The book was generally acclaimed, with critics calling it “playfully irreverent,” “delightfully daft,” “whoppingly imaginative,” and “a work of … startling originality.” My son adores this book and the entire series. I found it—interesting—and I heartily enjoyed this book despite the tortuous plot, the side trips that go nowhere, and the occasional moments of HUH?!? WTF….” 

the cold, Aura BurrowsI love Audible books, and have been listening to a lot of great books. In fact, I’ve  been following a serial posted on BigWorldNetwork.com, an affordable source of online reading. The website bills itself a s cross between TV and Books, and I really like it. I think this type of publisher will be a big factor in the shape of the industry over the next decade. They have talented authors, and you can either read OR listen to it being read on-line all you want for $3.00 a month subscription The series I have been following is The Cold, by local Olympia area author, Aura Burrows, who is also a friend of mine. I am into episode three now, and this tale is gripping. I love the way the reader, Willow Wood, tells it. In fact, I plan to indulge in two or three more episodes today, once I have my work done!

I have another friend, Joan Hazel, with a book launching on Wednesday. She has written the second installment in her paranormal romance series on shape-shifters, this one titled “Burdens of a Saint”. It launches Wednesday, and she has kindly agreed to talk about writing, and will be herewith me.

My reading schedule is jam-packed, and that’s the way I like it. Nothing like a good dose of fantasy to keep me busy! I hope you are finding plenty to love in what you are reading.

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