Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About SC Hahn


“Anticipating that inevitable question raised by readers of any prose-poem collection, the editors of The Party Train provide the reader with this piece by SC Hahn (before the table of contents and the three introductions by the editors, who also wrestle with that inevitable question):

"What's a prose poem?" I would turn my face and look into the distance away from our farm house, into a wild copse of trees which runs from the road's edge and on up the hill to the far fields. Box elder, green ash, and black locust tangle in a net of branches, tied together by thorny greenbrier. I know of a coyote den beneath one old box elder tree, on the edge of a gully cutting through the copse. If I were to stick my hand into the hole, I could feel cool wet air and perhaps the playful teeth of pups.

"Remember when you plowed the fields in the spring," I say to my father, "and the air behind you filled suddenly with sea gulls?" I can see him inhale the aroma of memory: the green and yellow tractor, the motor exhaust and dust, steel blades of the plow sinking into the earth and turning it, the smell all sexual and holy, worms and grubs uncovered into sunlight, then an unexpected slash of white as the gulls materialize behind the plow, a thousand miles and more from any ocean.’

I quote this piece in its entirety because it beautifully answers the question from the perspective of the prose poet, rather than that of the after-the-fact literary critic. I also find it fascinating how the image of the plow in Hahn's piece evokes the central issue used to differentiate the prose poem from the poem: "verse" comes from the Latin "to turn." The lines "turn" in verse, just like a plow going back and forth across a field. And yet, in SC Hahn's piece, the plow works as a real plow in a real landscape with real sea gulls, all created to answer a hypothetical question not about verse but about the prose poem. The prose poem, Hahn tells us, taking skillful advantage of the prose poem's leisurely anecdotal pace and room for rich detail, yields sur-prises only unearthed by this form.” — John Bradley, The Prose Poem: An International Journal

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The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers