From Prose to Poetry Challenge

dVerse: Poets Pub   Meeting the Bar: Critique and Craft — Prose to Poetry

Here is the challenge from Zsa of zumpoems site  :

  • Pick a passage from a novel, essay or short story that qualifies as prose, but for you is particularly poetic.
  • Next, without changing a word or punctuation mark, reformat that so it appears to be poetry.
  • Finally, rework it to meet your standards for poetry. Stop when you consider it to be a poem or keep working it until you consider it a good or even excellent poem.  [I strongly recommend going to the dVerse link above for a detailed explanation with examples.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Atypical for me, I am composing post and poem simultaneously, so behold the process:

My first challenge was finding an appropriate and legal text.  Zsa wisely recommends using something in the public domain (no longer under copyright.)  After rooting around on the internet (an absolutely splendid creation for is exercise), I stumbled on this:  The Red Badge of Courage – by Stephen Crane.  I read this years ago, and although I don’t remember all the plot details, I do remember being stunned by the poetics of the telling.  The link above is to the original text.  Here is my reformatting:

The trees began
softly
to sing a hymn of twilight.
The sun sank
until slanted
bronze rays struck the forest.
There was a lull
in the noises of insects
as if
they had bowed
their beaks
and were making a devotional pause.
There was silence
save for the chanted
chorus of the trees.

Then, upon this stillness,
there
suddenly
broke
a tremendous clangor of sounds.
A crimson roar
came from the distance.

The youth stopped. He was
transfixed
by this terrific
medley of all noises.
It was
as if worlds
were being rended.
There was the ripping sound of musketry
and the breaking crash of the artillery.

His mind flew in all directions.
He conceived the two
armies
to be at
each
other
panther fashion.
He listened for a time.
Then he began to run
in the direction of the battle.
He saw that it was
an ironical thing
for him to be running thus
toward
that which he
had been at such pains to avoid.
But he said, in substance,
to himself
that if the earth
and the moon
were about to clash,
many persons would doubtless
plan to get upon the roofs to witness the collision.

As he ran,
he became
aware that the forest had stopped
its music, as if at last becoming
capable of hearing
the foreign sounds.
The trees hushed
and stood motionless.
Everything seemed to be
listening
to the crackle and clatter
and earthshaking thunder.
The chorus peeked over the still earth.

It suddenly occurred
to the youth
that the fight in which he had been
was,
after all,
but perfunctory popping.
In the hearing of this present din
he was doubtful
if he had
seen
real battle scenes.
This uproar explained
a celestial battle;
it was
tumbling hordes a-struggle in the air.

Reflecting,
he saw a sort of humor in the point
of view of himself
and his fellows
during the late encounter. They
had taken themselves
and the enemy very seriously
and had imagined
that they were deciding the war.
Individuals
must have supposed
that they
were cutting the letters of their names
deep into everlasting tablets of brass,
or enshrining their reputations forever
in the hearts of their countrymen,
while,
as to fact,
the affair would appear in printed reports
under a meek
and immaterial title.
But he
saw that it was good,
else, he said,
in battle
every one would surely
run
save
forlorn hopes
and their ilk.

He went rapidly on.
He wished
to come to the edge
of the forest that he might peer out.

As he hastened,
there passed
through his mind
pictures
of stupendous conflicts.
His accumulated thought
upon such subjects was used
to form scenes.
The noise was as the voice
of an eloquent being,
describing.

Sometimes
the brambles formed chains
and tried to hold him back.
Trees,
confronting him,
stretched out their arms
and forbade him to pass.
After its previous hostility
this new resistance of the forest filled him
with a fine bitterness.
It seemed that
Nature could not be quite ready
to kill him.

But he obstinately took roundabout ways,
and presently he was
where he could see
long gray walls of vapor where
lay battle lines.
The voices
of cannon shook him.
The musketry
sounded in long
irregular
surges
that played
havoc with his ears.
He stood
regardant for a moment.
His eyes
had an awestruck expression.
He gawked in
the direction of the fight.

Presently he
proceeded
again
on his forward way.
The battle
was like the grinding
of an immense
and terrible machine
to him.
Its complexities and powers,
its grim processes,
fascinated
him.
He must
go close
and see
it produce corpses.

He came to a fence
and clambered over it.
On the far side,
the ground was littered with clothes
and guns.
A newspaper, folded up,
lay in the dirt.
A dead soldier
was stretched with his face
hidden in his arm.
Farther off there was a group
of four or five
corpses keeping
mournful company.
A hot sun had blazed upon this spot.

In this place the youth felt
that he was an invader.
This
forgotten
part of the battle
ground was owned by the dead men,
and he hurried,
in the vague apprehension
that one of the swollen forms
would rise
and tell him to
begone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Phew!  So much longer than haiku and tanka (yes, I’m whining).  Now the final stage, the reworking into true poem.  This means keeping the story, possible some of the word choice, (keeping the spirit of the prose) and transforming it into a recognizable poem.  Oh boy, I put too much on my plate and it’s not even Thanksgiving.  Alright, I’ll finish everything and . . .

In the slanting bronze of twilight
insects softly bowed
stilled
listening to
the devotional hymn
of the trees

when from a distance
one spell-bound not
by hymns
but by the
crimson cacophony
rending of worlds
ripping sounds of
minds shattering
under musketry
and the breaking crash of the artillery
of two armies
panther fashion
he paused to listen

Mesmerized by
the flame of sound
he fluttered
then flew in irony
to the roof of the world
to see the collision of the earth and moon
to witness
the war that had silenced
nature’s chorus

Now everything
seemed to be listening to the
crackling
clattering
rumbling
howling louder and louder
rolling over the land

Yet now
it occurred
this battle
nearly his first
yet not a first
but a deceit
glory’s celestial illusion
that they were cutting
the letters of their names
deep into everlasting
or enshrining themselves
in countrymen’s hearts
when truly
it would be printed
under a meek
and immaterial title

Illusions of glory
preserved bravery
so
he went rapidly on
entertaining romantic visions
of stupendous conflicts,
the voice
of an eloquent being,
describing.

Brambles formed chains
trees confronting him
stretched out their arms
and forbade him to pass
he obstinately pressed on
until long gray walls of vapor
and the voices
of cannon
marked the battle Ley lines

Again
pummeled by sound
of musketry
his grew wide
he gawked
stepped out
an immense and terrible
grinding machine
complex and grimly powerful
fascinating

He must
go close
and see
it produce corpses

The ground was littered
clothes
guns
newspaper, folded up,
a dead soldier, face hidden in his arm
groups of four or five
keeping mournful company
baked
in the day’s
sun

He was an invader
this forgotten part
the ground was owned
by the dead men
giving
vague apprehension
that one
would rise
and tell him to
begone

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About Yousei Hime

This is the journal of a poetic rabbit. Within the warren you'll find poetry, short stories, essays, art, book and movie reviews, and other odds and ends. If you happen to meet the fey princess, be courteous. This rabbit did and was forever changed.
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31 Responses to From Prose to Poetry Challenge

  1. Summer Rain says:

    excellent,

    have fun in the poetry picnic.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Promising Poets’ Poetry Cafe,
      Thank you. I’m not certain I’d call the story itself fun, but the process, though long, was fun. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. zumpoems says:

    What a wonderful selection! And you really took on quite a bit of original text!

    Very impressive re-formatting of the original!

    And then what a poetic transformation — the original is so poetic, so very challenging, but you handled this beautifully. I particularly like the forward motion created by
    “…everything
    … listening
    crackling
    clattering
    rumbling
    howling …
    rolling over the land”

    Excellent response to this challenge!

    • Yousei Hime says:

      zumpoems,
      You’ve made my day. It’s hard to sit back and take a compliment without pointing out all the things one thinks are wrong, just to be fair. We know they’re there, so I’ll try to grow a bit more and accept your words. Thank you so much for the reading, analysis, and especially the visit. Come back any time.

  3. manicddaily says:

    Such a beautiful choice of text–I’d forgotten how great Crane is and this was just beautiful. It’s very challenging as the text feels almost sacrosanct, and it is so so beautiful and profound as is. You did a very good job streamlining and highlighting and making your own choices. I really enjoyed reading them both.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      manicdaily,
      Thank you for your visit and observations. I tried to do exactly what you described, distilling the original to poetry. Sounds like some of it worked. I appreciate you taking the time to read and share with me.

  4. Lydia says:

    Yes, you sure did it! I am impressed that you undertook the long passage, really loved your reformatting of the original, and thought your own poem did justice to both the original and the reformatted version.
    The media advised often on Veteran’s Day that it was a day to recognize and thank veterans, and was not a day of mourning. Still, your selection seemed perfectly timed…..and these words sum it beautifully:
    groups of four or five
    keeping mournful company
    baked
    in the day’s
    sun

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Lydia,
      Welcome. Thank you for your reading and comment. I tried and am satisfied with the effort. We learn from steps and stumbles. I understand avoiding the depressing aspects of the holiday, but reflecting on combat and loss of life is unavoidable to me. Honor is beautiful, not war. Thanks again for sharing with me.

  5. kaykuala says:

    Yousei,
    Gosh, you really put your all into this challenge. You faithfully followed the guidelines and that’s amazing.Your verse is fantastic. It is great! And thanks for your visit.

    Hank

  6. What a wicked and even overwhelming passage from Crane to work with. I enjoyed the little insertion of “ley” into the battle lines, and many other of your choices.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Kathy,
      Welcome and thank you very much for your comment. It is always helpful to understand how one’s writing is viewed. The scene there had originally read as something rather mystical, with walls of grey smoke and such. I didn’t want to keep all of the text (soooo much stuff) but wanted that feel to remain somehow. I was hoping the one word might give it the cloaking it needed. I’m glad you liked it. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

  7. hobgoblin2011 says:

    Exceptional job here. You really took the challenge to another level, what a tough task it must have been, I, both envy and sympathize with you simultaneously here, as the work was magnificent, but the challenge was just as great. Awesome job. Thanks

    • Yousei Hime says:

      hobgoblin2011,
      I agree that the challenge was great. That alone made the work worth it. I do think I’ll try to curb my greedy pen next time. I’m still fatigued from all that editorial hopping about.

  8. zongrik says:

    some nice improvement to the text such as “In the slanting bronze of twilight” and “crimson cacophony” (nice alliteration) and more…

    thanks for your comment on my page. it was very flattering.

  9. Brendan says:

    Your process of turning Crane’s prose into your poetry shows how poetry is like a Chinese landscape, removing everything but the heart-lines from the page. Fine work. – Brendan

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Brendan,
      I love that comparison of painting to poetry. My favorite it is minimalist, like sumi-e, just as my favorite poetry is haiku. That’s exactly the process I was trying to achieve. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  10. Laurie Kolp says:

    Beautiful work, very impressive… and how fitting for Veteran’s Day… especially:

    “Illusions of glory
    preserved bravery”

  11. truly spent time on it, didn’t you?

    excellent job.

  12. slpmartin says:

    Double Wow! What an excellent job with this challenge.

  13. Some favorite lines:
    ‘this battle
    nearly his first
    yet not a first
    but a deceit
    glory’s celestial illusion
    that they were cutting
    the letters of their names
    deep into everlasting’

    Wonderful work with a large excerpt, I agree the last lines had to be there. I read the Red Badge of Courage and think you capture much of its essence in your poem.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Anna,
      Thank you for your reading and comment. I think one of the difficulties, besides length chosen, is that Crane’s writing is very descriptive, almost poetic. That made it difficult to decide how to rework–leave it as is, incorporate, revise. I’m feeling tired already just thinking about it. I appreciate the time you took. These responses help so much. I’ll be over to your place in time.

  14. brian says:

    you do really well with pacing through out …dropping down to single word lines at just the right spot…you were ambitious with this, expanding such a large section…many would get overwelmed with the size, but you bring it in nicely…

    • Yousei Hime says:

      brian,
      Thank you. I realized it was too much, but as I read through the original looking for the ending spot, I knew I had to get to those last lines. So much of what was crucial was there. Still sore after that mental workout (mental in all it’s ways). I really appreciate the reading and comment. It all helps.

  15. claudia says:

    wow..not an easy text you took for the challenge..but you really done well..In the slanting bronze of twilight…bam! great start..you take us right into the scene with this..

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Claudia,
      Thanks for the encouragement. I did like the beginning. As the work went on it became slogging. Definitely too big s bite to chew in one sitting, at least it was for this bunny. Still, I couldn’t really decide where to end it. Perhaps I’ll rework it again … sometime … not too soon. Sleep more then read.

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