Distinctions among the craft of writing are counterproductive. Sitting down thinking, "Okay, I'm going to write a poem," limits the writer to a certain set of techniques. My writings often begins with a huge block of prose, then get macheted down to something else. I think going into any process with a definite idea of what the end will be is disadvantageous. Art 121 (Design Process 1) and what little of Art 122 (Design Process 2) I had before I was forced to medically withdraw taught me to play around and use guidelines only as a place to begin.
Assignments to write in a specific form are wonderful. They’re difficult, but it’s always fun to try on new forms. My poems usually stay in that form long enough only to turn them in: to me, assignments like that are good places to start, but are almost never good places to end. Some in poetry class wouldn't quite appreciate or even understand this yet. Nobody is purely a poet, a novelist, an essayist, et cetera—we are all simply writers. Why limit ourselves with distinctions and classifications? They are merely crutches. We are writers. We write. We produce writings. Period.
What is prose and what is poetry is not a new question. Sometimes form is important, sometimes it detracts. John Donne wrote his famous Meditation XVII in prose. The question existed long before him though. There is an interesting balance between pure poetry and pure prose—the endpoints depending on one's own definition of both. To me, it is exciting and fun to play with the relationships between the two. There is no writing—office memo, text message, e-mail, blog post, newspaper article, “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night”—purely prose or purely poetry. When two words love each other and are placed together, there are both prosaic and poetic techniques influencing the writer. No matter how much confidence the writer has—or has not—both influences are omnipresent.
Why do we also make distinctions between art forms? Writing is art. Sculpture is art. Painting is art. Designing a car is art. Architecture is art. Cooking is art. This past year I have taken 12 Art classes. Every single class tried to teach the exact same thing: originality is good, aesthetically beautiful originality is “brilliant.” When did aesthetics fail to mean how it treats all five senses? Painting addresses sight. Sculpture: touch, smell, sight, hearing. Cooking: taste, sight, smell. Poetry: sight, hearing. Hip-Hop: sight, hearing. All art addresses specific senses depending upon its medium. Perhaps the art forms choose their artists through the senses that artist is sensitive to.
Through all 12 classes, every critique had the same feel—no matter the subject. A crit in drawing was almost exactly the same as a sculpture crit which was a thinly disguised writing workshop: they’re all the same. Why do we distinguish between the art forms when their crits are the same? Cross-discipline artists—Picasso, Ross Levy, et cetera—are always stronger for their broader base. Why not poets? A lot of poets are semi-cross-discipline (I consider teaching an art form), but not nearly enough. Architecture students learn in colleges of Art & Architecture (CAAs). The second they graduate they forget about art. Under the current, flawed educational system it would be more helpful to have architecture students learning in colleges of Architecture & Business, not CAAs. Thanks to Ross Levy for trying to change this. One voice. (Bon chance!)
Why this infighting among writers? Why are rappers outcast from the poetic community? I can only dream of being as good as Jay-Z. It takes me months to get words lined up as beautiful as he does in minutes. He says, “When I made Blueprint—the album—I did nine songs in two days. It was pretty much the album—it was pretty much the record—it was done.” (Collision Course DVD) He only added 6 songs after those two days, then released the album to sales of 2.3 million and uncounted downloads. The rhyme and the natural beats in Blueprint are astounding. Sure he uses an artificial beat, but look what he made. Maybe poets should start using artificial beats as well. It might help some of us.
Play around. Period. Worry about whether it’s a poem, a prose poem, an essay, a rap, a news article, short fiction, the beginning of a novel, et cetera, later. Play around first.