Differentiating Prose and Poetry

Differentiating Prose and Poetry

A Story by Dr. YumnaKay

Opinion. Thoughts. Debate

What differentiates prose and poetry? And what's the fine line which separates prose poetry from the 'quotes' we often come across on social media platforms? 

I had a recent short exchange with some writers on Facebook and they seemed to disagree about even a one-line piece being classified as a poem, which is what got me thinking... isn't poetry more about the feel of the words than how they are arranged? I agree, poetry in its true essence is about maintaining the rhyme, rhythm and count the syllables, but what if a perfect piece is devoid of making the reader feel the words? 
When I read Sylvia Plath, or Charles Bukowski, and their pieces, which (of what I've read) are classified as poems, even one-liners, like this one by Plath:
'I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.'
or this one by Bukowski:
'love breaks my bones, and I laugh.'

I do not see them as prose, because the words (to me) carry a poetic essence. 

So here, the need to understand the difference between prose and poem arises. I believe poetry can't and shouldn't be confined to the meter counts only, but also about profound expressions portrayed in brevity. 

© 2020 Dr. YumnaKay

Author's Note

Dr. YumnaKay
Would love to hear thoughts on this one.

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As much as beauty, poetry is in the eye of the beholder. That’s what I think anyway.

Posted 8 Months Ago

I couldn't have said it better myself. I completely agree that poetry should be emotional, expressive, and much more. Most importantly; I think the reader of one's poetry should feel some thing when they read it. Whether a poem is long, or short.

Posted 10 Months Ago

Yumna Dear,

I truly cherish the manner in which your mind works … ever, you are a source of wonderment to me. : )

The one-line poetic examples you offered are exceptional. Here's one of mine,
"When scribes my pen its final word, will my poet's voice nevermore be heard?"

Words used:
discourse = common discussion, conversation, talk, dialogue, chat, etc.
elaborate = decorative, embellished, adorned, colorful, expanded or deepened in meaning, etc.

You asked, "What differentiates prose and poetry?"

Ordinarily put (from my personal discernments and perspectives), the difference between Prose and Poetry lies specifically in the manner and form in which each is written and/or spoken.
Namely, in the most basic of terms, the difference is that prose is written or spoken in common discourse, while poetry is expression, written or recited in an elaborate manner, and both can be voiced and composed, exclusively, in their almost endless variety of formats.
For instance, adhering to form, alone, does not make a written piece or recital a poem; nor, does form (the manner in which it's expressed) necessarily make common writing or discourse acceptable prose.

PROSE is as potentially varied and different as there are individual writers setting words onto a page, whether it is a report, a synopsis, a litany, a story, a novel, a lecture or speech, a dictionary or a set of encyclopedia, etc; prose is the form of language our world functions by, that we normally speak to each other in everyday life.

POETRY or POETIC PROSE are intrinsically the same as Prose. Yet, though there are literally thousands of poetic forms and varieties, it is not only the "form" in which a poem is composed and/or spoken that makes it a poem; it's in the elaborate personal manner and voice set forth by the individual poetess or poet that is at the heart of all poetry, per se.
Here's a personal discernment of poetry I share with my students: "Poetry is heightened literary expression cast in lines, rather than sentences, in which language is used in a concentrated blend of sound, meaning, textures, hues, imagery, and metaphor, etc; to create an emotional, unexpected, or impacting response. Essentially rhythmic, poetry is usually metrical, and most frequently structured in stanzas."
Since concepts of the nature of poetry differ widely, when getting outside the structured forms of poetry, including Free Verse, it would appear no precise, universally accepted, definition can adequately distinguish between what is poetry and what it is not, and what is considered merely gibberish. And, though, the potential readership for poetry has always been limited, the composition of poetry is recognized as a difficult achievement; thus, "eminent" poets are universally esteemed, as are Prose writers of great literary accomplishment and notoriety.

One could elaborate further on the differences in intricate poetical detail between poetry and prose, such as iambics, elision, alliteration, sibilance, enjambment, cadence, meter, metaphor, consonance, line-breaks, assonance, resonance, poetic voice, etc; the nomenclature of poetry seems almost endless, so that we could spend a tome's worth of time discussing it all. On becoming enmeshed in Prose, we could do the same … both, are an art, philosophy, and a technical challenge in their own right, even a way of life for some … each encompassing a world all their own.

Often, the lines between Prose and Poetry are blurred, or misty, if you will … just as water and air gradually and intricately merge into one … until, both are eventually separate from the other, but never completely, as we'll never be ⁓ from whence we came to where we go.

You, also, asked, "And what's the fine line which separates prose poetry from the 'quotes' we often come across on social media platforms?"
My "literal" mind would need a less ambiguous description of what "exactly" it is you're asking about here, before I can constructively respond … that is, if after reading my answers to Prose and Poetry, you might still be interested in my input; assuming you ever were … LOL!

Posted 10 Months Ago

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If it makes you feel, it's poetry. Can I recommend an artist you'd like? His name is Lil Peep. It's sad music. I vibe with it lately. Listen to I crash, u crash. Good feeling. Or Crybaby, that's a good one too.

Posted 10 Months Ago

I think it’s important to distinguish the two - while simultaneously seeking to challenge the differentiations.

Poetry to me is technical - it employs composition (even so far as disregarding it, say with a Warhol-esque/avant garde single line poem, or some of the more dialogical work like Bulowski’s) and yet employs the same literary tools (alliteration, assonance, image, tone, symbolism etc.) as prosaic work. I’m inclined to say that poetry is distinct because it’s metered (though this isn’t always the case) and often make the correlation between poetry, rhyme and the oral tradition (that’s where poetry began after all).

At the same time, prose can challenge the same constructs that contain it, as well - Hemingway has a famous six word short that goes “for sale: baby shoes, never worn”. This itself seems metered, and yet it tells a story - is it poetry, prose or a rendition of the pair?

I guess it’s really up to you to distinguish (I don’t really have a hard time doing so myself) but I think having a sort of informal canon is still important - as there wouldn’t be any rules left to break if we disregarded their relevance (I think that’s part of what made Shakespeare such a master).

Lastly, and looking at the origin of the novel (18th century) we’d be denying an entire historiography, as well as the development of our written language if we didn’t investigate, and in turn, seek to canonize these sorts of things. It’s important (at least to me) to be aware, or have been educated by historiographic nuance if we’re to call ourselves writers - otherwise any old schmuck could do it and there’d be no semblance of quality control (absolutely my biggest problem w/this website).

Personally, I’m still young, and am trying to learn (and so may be biased thereby) but feel as though I’m apprenticing to the trade - and if there is no trade, because there aren’t any parameters with which to define it, than it renders my efforts redundant and insults what I’ve invested in order to improve.

Posted 11 Months Ago

I find four elements that separate poetry from prose.
Length of Line

I always express to my students that the best definition of what poetry is is that it is not prose.
Essays, novels, short stories....written in paragraphs, with periods, commas, semi-colons as stops differ from poetry which also has that very slight pause at the end of each line.
One of my colleagues wrote this poem:
"Butterfly flutter by"

description, alliteration, rhythm, in-line rhyme...

Yes to respond to what you said...Poetry can be this short and it is still poetry.
that's just my two cents.


Posted 11 Months Ago

I think categorizing is a fruitless endeavor, whether it's about writing . . . or ethnicities or sexual/gender preferences, etc. It's making distinctions without a purpose. It's mental masturbation. I prefer to describe what a piece means to me instead of trying to categorize (hopefully I can succeed in this some of the time). I think lots of writers & artists make it a point to be too tangential to label (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 11 Months Ago

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Added on November 7, 2020
Last Updated on November 7, 2020


Dr. YumnaKay
Dr. YumnaKay


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