“Verse must be at least as well written as prose if it is to be poetry”

Although Ford Madox Ford’s quote regarding the quality of prose and poetry might seem a bit of a slight towards prose, I’d argue that Mr. Ford was complimenting the fiction writers of his time with statements such as the above. If anything is to be gained from Ford’s quote, it is the fact that poetry was not merely in search of new voices; rather, Ford is bluntly stating that in order for poetry to retain its status as the highest form of linguistic art, it needs artists who are painstakingly attentive to their craft. It seems unlikely that one (prose or poetry) will ever completely overshadow the other, and I for one am happy about that. Many of my favorite writers (contemporary and otherwise) compose(d) a variety of works, usually including both poetry and prose. It seems only fitting to begin my blog with one of Georgia’s most celebrated authors. In the paragraphs below, I’ll touch on the life of Carson McCullers and why I enjoy her fiction and poetry.

Among the most talented Southern fiction writers of her generation, McCullers grew up envisioning herself as an accomplished pianist. She left her hometown of Columbus, Georgia, in 1934 to study piano at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. However, fate intervened and by her twenty-second year she had produced a critically acclaimed first novel, entitled The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Although her life came to a premature end some seven months after her fiftieth birthday, McCullers left behind four novels, a novella and short story collection, a play and a collection of poems. One of my favorite passages in all of literature is her examination of the lover versus the beloved in her novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. But that is for another discussion; below are two of my favorite poems by Carson McCullers.

The Mortgaged Heart

The dead demand a double vision. A furthered zone,
Ghostly decision of apportionment. For the dead can claim
The lover’s senses, the mortgaged heart.

Watch twice the orchard blossoms in gray rain
And to the cold rose skies bring twin surprise.
Endure each summons once, and once again;
Experience multiplied by two–the duty recognized.
Instruct the quivering spirit, instant nerve
To schizophrenic master serve,
Or like a homeless Doppelgänger
Blind love might wander.

The mortgage of the dead is known.
Prepare the cherished wreath, the garland door.
But the secluded ash, the humble bone–
Do the dead know?

When We Are Lost

When we are lost what image tells?
Nothing resembles nothing. Yet nothing
Is not blank. It is configured Hell:
Of noticed clocks on winter afternoons, malignant stars,
Demanding furniture. All unrelated
And with air between.

The terror. Is it of Space, of Time?
Or the joined trickery of both conceptions?
To the lost, transfixed among the self-inflicted ruins,
All that is non-air (if this indeed is not deception)
Is agony immobilized. While Time,
The endless idiot, runs screaming round the world.

****************************************************************************************************************

If you are the least bit familiar with McCullers’ fiction, it is easy to notice several characteristics of her prose in her poetry. On a very basic level, there is the melancholic, yet thoughtful (I’d also say conversational) tone of the poems. McCullers was herself a very shy, reserved person but even at the darkest depths of her work, there is a strength of expression that belies the extremeties of hopelessness. Secondly, she explores feelings of isolation, loss, and the fickleness (or at least the pros and cons) of emotions such as love. Lastly, there is a disconnect between the speaker and his/her environment that is awfully hard to ignore. Although these particular poems might not be indicative of it, I’d like to end this post by saying that Carson McCullers’ work is not simply grim for the sake of being so. Perhaps what makes her work stand out to me the most is the unusual spunk she works into her language, the way she unabashedly and repeatedly presents grief and redemption side by side, as they are often known to travel.

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