site map
Patch of Darkness Alison Townsend
Question #5 ) Jamey Dunham states: “I write prose poems because I believe the form of prose instinctively lends itself to the techniques that most interest me in poetry.” What poetic techniques do you find most interesting and instinctive in the prose poem? Dunham further notes, “If one is to pull off what Bly refers to as ‘leaping’ in a poem, I think it is best to do so in a form that doesn’t accentuate the penultimate step or point toward where it will land.” How does the prose poem form enable this ambiguity that Dunham suggests. For Laurel Snyder, “the process of crossing genres (i.e. pp/ff)... changes the lens enough . . . (that it) feels really productive. It changes the slant, the assumptions, the way the work is read.” How does the pp/ff allow you to make this “leap” in a way that remains ambiguous and allows you to subvert previous assumptions?

I originally began writing prose poems as a way to return to lineated verse after a crisis of confidence in my early twenties had silenced me. At the time, I didn't even really know what prose poems were, just that their fluidity and ability to contain rapid shifts of psychically-connected leaps of association offered a kind of flexibility not possible even in free verse. While I began writing lineated verse again soon thereafter, the prose poem has stayed with me, and is the form that I find most compelling and real. Everything is connected to everything else in a prose poem in a way that is completely different from lineated verse, one that is much more circular (despite the form's blocky shape!). At the same time, there is always a central mystery that floats at the center of the prose poem, like the eye of a hurricane, or the open space around which bees swarm. Prose poems allow me to make leaps -- of association, consciousness, language, and insight that I can't get to in a lineated poem. No matter how disjunctive it may be, a lineated poem is in lines; it does stack up. Prose poems, however, spiral or buzz around a numinous center. While one may get very close to that center point in the act of writing the poem, one never quite touches it. For me, the "ambiguity" -- and the freedom -- of the prose poem lies in its delicacy of nuance, its slamming together of seemingly unrelated elements, its ability to approximate the mystery without quite revealing it -- all of which provide the tension that makes the form so effective.


Alison Townsend is the author of two books of poetry, The Blue Dress: Poems and Prose Poems and What the Body Knows. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Calyx, Fourth Genre, New Letters, The North American Review, and The Southern Review, among others. Her work has been anthologized in such collections as Boomer Girls; A Fierce Brightness; and Are You Experienced?: Baby Boom Poets at Midlife. She won the 2004 Diner poetry contest. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and lives and writes on four acres in the farm country outside Madison.