Micro-Lesson | Generating Prose Poems with Deborah Woodard

Posted Fri, 2/27/2015 - 11:56pm by  |  Category:

Micro-LessonGenerating Prose Poems with Deborah Woodard: March 7–April 11


You haven’t finished your ape, said mother to father,
who had monkey hair and blood on his whiskers.

I’ve had enough monkey, cried father.

You didn’t eat the hands, and I went to all the
trouble to make onion rings for its fingers, said mother.

I’ll just nibble on its forehead, and then I’ve had enough,
said father.

I stuffed its nose with garlic, just like you like it, said

–from Russell Edson’s “Ape”

Russell Edson, American master of the prose poem, likes to set in motion a chain of causality. Accept the opening premise, however bizarre it may be, and the rest follows.


Intrigued? Try this: Think of a place you’ve lived that you’ve outgrown or lost in some way, either because you got older and moved away. Draw a quick map of this place, if that helps.

Next, locate and “adopt” an extinct animal or bird—yes, this is sad! If at all possible, locate an actual photograph. In my class, I supply chapters from Errol Fuller’s Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record (Princeton UP).

Your task is to write a piece (poem, prose poem, flash fiction: all good!) that integrates this lost creature into your lost environment, where it has suddenly shown up. And now for the element of causality, as in Russell Edson’s prose poems. Where does this lost creature fit in? Does it proliferate? Can it survive? How do you interact with it? How does it mirror your tenuous hold on that environment?

I’ll be featuring Edson’s The Tunnel in my Generating Prose Poems class, along with a new anthology aptly titled Short (Persea, edited by Alan Zeigler).


Each session inspires the next. Stay tuned.