Poetry is Not Prose - Part Two - Blog

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Poetry is Not Prose - Part Two


In today’s Sunday New York Times is an obituary of a Romanian poet, Nina Cassian, who sought refuge in the U.S. when her poems offended the Government of President Nicolae Ceausescu. In this obituary, of all places, is found an important lesson on the state of American poetry that illustrates one of the fundamental and basic principles behind the theory of poetry of José Garcia Villa, namely, “Poetry is not prose.” It reads::


            “Though she moved with apparent ease in American literary circles, reading and lecturing widely, Ms. Cassian by her own inclination remained something of an outsider. She was amused, for instance, by a practice she deemed singularly American, in which a poet giving a reading precedes each work with a précis of the very work to be read.


Parodying this practice, as The New York Times reported in 1995, Ms. Cassian liked to say:


‘There was a pear tree on my grandfather’s farm, and one day I noticed that when its blossoms fell, they looked like dandruff falling on my grandfather’s shoulders. So I wrote a poem about it. It goes like this:


On my grandfather’s farm


there used to be a pear tree.


When its blossoms fell,


they looked like dandruff


falling on Grandfather’s




This parody reminds me of Robert Frost who, when asked by someone the meaning of one of his poems, replied: “You want me to say it over in other and worse English?”


Persons who know nothing about poetry as art tend to look in poems for what they say. As Villa taught: “The ordinary reader does not really think of meaning in its great sense, but as simply something they can re-say in prose (para-phraseable content).” How better to illustrate the truth of this observation than to study Ms. Cassian’s parody and reflect upon what it says about the state of poetry in America these days?

Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry


  • Guest
    Mort Malkin Sunday, 08 June 2014

    Happy to be in touch with one of the last of the disciples of Jose´ Garcia Villa. And, glad to contribute a touch to this blog. As a poet who has continued to write for some forty five years, I have increasingly found that my thoughts always change through each poem as it develops by its own music — rhythms and sound values — and nears its completion to its final "meaning". This is not only the poetic method, it is the very method of creativity. More on this concept in a future comment.
    May I encourage others to add to the blog as they dare.

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