Poetry Corner

by Arthur Mampel

Some prose is so full of meaning and emotion, its words and matter—so incarnated in its writing, penned with such artistry and heart—that to merely call it prose is to present it to the reader as less than it is. At the very least it is prose-poetry.

The poet Louis Jenkins comes to mind. In his book, Nice Fish, you may think you are reading prose, but he calls it something more than that. Jenkins calls them “Prose Poems.” Robert Bly said of Louis Jenkins: “Artistically, Louis Jenkins is one of the most subtle poets of his generation.” This afternoon I started rereading James Agee and Walker Evans’ book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans provided the outstanding pictures—for Fortune Magazine—of the people and places they encountered in that time together during the Great Depression years in the Deep South. Agee provided the prose poetry; Evans the photos. In Alabama Agee wrote this description of the Grudger family, where Agee and Walker Evans spent weeks living and sleeping among them.

How To Tell A Wolf From A Dog

A wolf carries his head down, tail down. He has a look of
preoccupation, or worry, you might think. He has a family to
support. He probably has a couple of broken ribs from trying
to bring down a moose. He’s not getting workman’s comp,
either, and no praise for his efforts. The wolf looks unem-
ployed, flat broke.
On the other hand, a dog of similar features, a husky or a
Malamute, has his head up, ears up, looks attentive, self-con-
fident, cheerful and obedient. He is fully employed with an
eye toward promotion. He carries his tail high, like a banner.
He’s part of a big organization and has the title of “man’s best
friend.”
—Louis Jenkins

“…and down hill beyond the open field a little wind laid itself in a wall against the glistening leaves of the high forest and lay through with a long sweet granular noise of rustling water; and the hen dropped from the ledge of the porch to the turded dirt with a sodden bounce, and an involuntary cluck as her heaviness’ hit the ground on her sprung legs; and the long lithe little wind released the trees and was gone on, wandering the fringe dearth in its affairs like a Saturday schoolchild; and I heard footsteps in the hall and Emma appeared, all dressed to go, looking somehow as if she had come to report a decision that had been made in a conference, for which I, without knowing it, seemed to have been waiting. She spoke in the same way, too, not wasting any roundabout time or waiting for an appropriate rhythm, yet not in haste, looking me steadily and sweetly in the eyes, and said, ‘I want you and Mr. Walker to know how much we all like you, because you make us feel easy with you; we don’t have to act any different from what it comes natural to act, and we don’t have to worry what you’re thinking about us, it’s just like you was our own people and had always lived here with us, you are so kind, and nice, and quiet, and easygoing, and we wisht you wasn’t never going away but stay on here with us, and I just want to tell you how much we all keer bout you. Annie Mae says the same, and you please tell Mr. Walker, too, if I don’t see him afore I go.”

About the prose poem the author Jenkins writes, “I love the idea of a poem that worked without rhyme, meter, or predetermined line breaks, things which insist that the reader should be having a poetic experience.”

Arthur Mampel is a poet who lives in Seattle, Washington.

See all articles by Arthur Mampel