Prose poems are not easy to write, though there are one or two poets who have the gift of making them seem effortless. Patricia Debney is one of those poets.
How Not to Be a Woodlouse
Avoid damp, dark places. Try not to hide. Your shell is for protection only.
Seek sunshine, dry weather, fresh flowers. Develop a taste for clean, clear water, and the smooth, pungent skin of just-picked fruit.
Celebrate the lightness of your touch, the way your feathery caress holds people still.
Remember, that, like you, the world is not black and white, but made up of delicate shades of grey.
from How to be a Dragonfly
Smith Doorstop 2005
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However, what I'd like to explore during this prompt is not how to write a prose poem. although the option is there, but how we might use the imperative.
The imperative is the verbal form that expresses command, entreaty, advice, exhortation, and generally exists in the 2nd person (Pick up the book - literally 'you' pick up the book) or the 1st person plural (Let's catch a train.)
We use imperatives from day to day for different reasons, e.g.
telling people what to do: Close the window.
giving instructions: Put the coin in the slot and press the red button; Add 3 oz of sugar.
giving advice: See the doctor - it's the best thing.
making recommendations: Have the fish, it’s always good here.
making offers: Have a bit more wine.
There’s an idea of authority behind the use of the imperative, but its use doesn’t imply that the addressee will succumb to the suggested authority of the speaker.
Patricia Debney's poem is a list of instructions that takes the form of an extended metaphor: we realise that these actions and insights translate to the human condition. This is persuasive, gentle advice (to the poet herself, to a specific person, or to a more general audience) that transcends any one individual's experience and addresses a collective consciousness. The use of the imperative is an essential part of the poem's effect on the reader.
However, the imperative can also be aggressive, accusatory, judgemental. It can express anger, fear. It can exhort, and even suggest hopelessness. Think of Dylan Thomas's 'Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light' - a poem that asks for the impossible, that is without authority to change anything.
Flick through an anthology and look for poems that use the imperative. Try and identify:
1.the effect of the imperative (tone, mood, theme)
2. who’s speaking to whom
3. the degree of authority
and then try writing your own poem that uses the imperative either as a principal shaping tool, or at some point in the poem for a particular effect.
I look forward to reading your poems, and in the meantime here's one of mine from my collection, Learning How to Fall:
What woke you last night –
screech of owls,
the moon smothered by clouds?
This morning a fracture
of tail-feathers on the path,
wind scouring the glen,
your own breath sucked in
through clenched teeth,
and this bush choked by holly –
green berries hard as stone.
Don’t touch them. Don’t stray
into the tangled woods
with your gift of fruit,
your feet twisting in hollows.
Don’t look up
through the cracked
kaleidoscope of leaves
to see what that cawing is,
the world tipping, your heart
unsure where it belongs.
...........At the place
you started from, an open door,
heat, a man and woman
laughing – voices
you will begin to recognise.