Response & Bio
Cultural critic Michael Benedikt suggests that "there is probably a shorter distance from the unconscious to the prose poem, than from the unconscious to most poems in verse." In what ways do you think this is true?
I'm sitting in my bedroom/office, writing at the computer, claustrophobic, myopic, on the verge of some kind of minor breakdown. I don't have the will to write a poem, nor do I have any desire to sort out the facts of my life in order to create a construct of memory designed to misrepresent my actual experience, a fiction if ever there was one. So I write whatever comes to mind with no sense of what it might be.
I'm sitting where I am because my wife and I are estranged and soon to separate. In the meantime, I live in a very small room of the house where I sleep, eat, and write. My world has shrunk to about 8' X 10'. All I really have is my imagination and my neuroses. I write about monkeys and men who are lost, among other things. But I don't write about myself.
Some time has passed, and when I look at what I've written, I see that all of it is autobiographical in painfully revealing ways. I decide not to show anyone what I've written.
Some more time passes, and I have a slightly more objective view of my work. It makes me laugh, though I'm still uncomfortable. I show some of the work to a few friends. They like it. I reassess.
Aside from a few word choices or basic sentence structures, I don't do any substantial revision. There seems to have been a more direct flow from my unconscious to the page. Is it art? Probably not. Is it poetry? I doubt it. But it is a more accurate representation of who I am than any of the verse I've written. Because I wasn't concerned about art or about poetry, I wrote something else, something less concerned with artifact and more concerned with...well, concerned with being honest. Not that I set out to be honest. I was simply trying to entertain myself at a time when I could barely convince myself to get out of bed. I thought quite a bit about Joseph K. and wondered how soon before my transformation would begin.
So what's my point? It's pretty simple. I wrote prose poems because I didn't care about any of the things that used to mean a great deal to me about poetry. I didn't care if I got the facts right, since I no longer thought it possible to know the past. I didn't care about line breaks or meter, because I didn't have the resolve to worry those things into place. I did, however, rekindle my love affair with metaphor; it kept me at bay from myself as I was writing and allowed me to write as unselfconsciously as I ever have. Of course, metaphor, being made of tenor as well as vehicle, eventually presented me with some irrefutable facts about myself. And if all this sounds a little too much like a form of autotherapeutic nonsense, that's because I left out the best part: I had a good time writing these prose poems. I felt liberated from myself in a way I didn't think was possible, and I had the rush of knowing that what appeared on the page in front of me was as direct a hit on my own psyche as I could muster.
So yes, I agree with Michael Benedikt. But only because he said "probably."
Christopher Kennedy is the author of a collection of prose poems, Nietzsche's Horse, from Mitki/Mitki Press. His work has appeared/will appear in Grand Street, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, The Quarterly, Mississippi Review, and many other magazines and journals. He received a Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts grant in 1997 and a poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1999. One of the founding editors of 3rd Bed, he is the Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Syracuse Univeristy.