Prose? Poem? “A certain amount of attention,” quote from William Stafford

In thinking about the sometimes fine line between poetry and prose, I appreciate William Stafford’s observation:

A Certain Amount of Attention

It occurs to me as I travel to campuses for readings that many of the people I meet have the feeling that there is a mechanical ability involved in the making of poetry. That, especially among young poets, poetry requires a craft of them that they don’t have. But that isn’t the way that I see poetry.

Poetry and prose to me are very close to the same thing. The distinction is not so much in the craft that’s gone into it but in the way you present it to a reader. If you say something in such a way as to ask a certain amount of attention from the reader, that’s a poem. And if you don’t alert him to its being a poem and let it be prose, well then that’s prose. And prose can be every bit as complex and difficult, it seems to me, as poetry.

From American Poetry Observed: Poets on Their Own Work. Ed. Joe David Bellamy. Copyright © 1984 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

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