help track down a prose poem
November 11, 2005 10:07 AM   Subscribe

My husband is looking for a prose poem about postcards used to create a religion.

He read this poem on a handout in a college class (American lit in general or American poetry) in the early 1990s, and would like to read it during a religious service if he can find a copy. He said it was by a published poet, not a friend of the professor or whatever, so I'm hoping it's possible to track it down among the well-read.

The details he could give me were: a) short piece, about 1 paragraph; b) "wish you were here" was definitely in it; c) the religion that was created by the people reading the messages on these postcards broke down at the end of the poem, with the people left vaguely confused.

Does this sound at all familiar to anyone? I'm thinking it could be something by Russell Edson or James Tate (sounds like the kind of thing they might do) but don't currently have any of their books on my shelves. If you have the text and don't want to reprint it for copyright reasons, you can just tell me the author/collection and I'll track it down from there.
posted by dlugoczaj to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
Can you revise this sentence?

"the religion that was created by the people reading the messages on these postcards broke down at the end of the poem, with the people left vaguely confused."

Doesn't make a lick of sense to me.
posted by agregoli at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2005

> Doesn't make a lick of sense to me.

It makes sense to me.

By the end of the poem, a religion breaks down (falls apart, fails somehow). Which religion breaks down? The one that was created by some people. Which people? The ones who were reading messages on postcards. Which messages? You'll have to find the poem to learn that.
posted by pracowity at 12:59 PM on November 11, 2005

Well dlugoczaj, this has been nagging me all day, because it sounds familiar.

However, I hope this is helpful: the style/subject matter called to mind Vern Rutsala. Here's one of his poems (from Paragraphs, 1978):

The Public Lecture

No matter how good the speaker, the listeners always find him dull. A strange impatience makes its way through the room, a restlessness that shows itself in coughs and a nearly silent shifting of position. The uneasiness rises from the buried fact that this is a trial by ordeal. Far back in time the speaker lived only until he stopped talking; then he was quickly sacrificed and his flesh eaten by the audience. Not really aware of it, audiences today still await restlessly for this climax -- it shows itself most clearly when pauses occur, such silence is the audience's disease -- and the listeners are forced to dissipate the enormous feelings of frustration by slapping their hands together very hard when the speaker stops.

Other poets came to mind who frequently work in prose poem form and have this sort of surreal sensibility: Jack Anderson, Michael Benedikt, and Siv Cedering. I hope one of these names provides a good lead. And I'll keep thinking about this!
posted by melissa may at 1:41 PM on November 11, 2005

Not to state the obvious, but he really ought to try hunting down and emailing the professor in question. Shouldn't be to hard to Google him if he's still on staff at any college/university.

Not only would the professor be the best one to remember the piece, but he would no doubt be incredibly happy to hear that at least one aspect of his class made such a lasting impression.
posted by rafter at 2:00 AM on November 12, 2005

Also, if you haven't already consider searching for "flash fiction" and "short shorts" besides "prose poetry" — pinning something like that down to a genre is going to be something of a judgement call.
posted by rafter at 2:03 AM on November 12, 2005

rafter, I had already suggested your (first) idea; unfortunately, my husband doesn't remember the professor's name (especially since he doesn't even remember which class it was in the first place; probably still smoking too much pot at the time). I'll give your second idea a shot; I did worry about the genre pigeonholing causing problems with Google.

melissa may, I've got a friend who's into Rutsala so I'll check with him. Thanks for the refs.

pracowity, your translation for agregoli is exactly correct, thanks.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:20 AM on November 14, 2005

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