When poetry & prose mingle


Ed. note: We are honored to have Adria Bernardi teaching a 4-week course for us this spring, "Two Voices, Two Parts: Working with Prose & Poetry in the Same Work," which offers new angles of inquiry and inspiration for prose writers and poets alike. Seats are still available! We asked Adria to say a bit about the kinds of mixed-genre works that the class will look at for inspiration. 


The way ahead may be dangerous, steep as snowy trails winding through high mountains.  Nevertheless I welcome the New Year just as I am.


 New Year greeting-time:


I feel about average

welcoming my spring[1]

What is this conversation that is written in both prose and poetry? Why and how is the one essential to the other?  Why this shifting back and forth?  Why does narrative not suffice? Why doesn’t the excellent poem stand alone? These questions continue to nip at my heels as I head into April — and into a workshop — where we will be looking at new work written in both prose and poetry, and reading the writings of several writers considered masters of a form that goes by different names, among them, mixed genre, hybrid, and the haibun.

It’s the quality of back-and-forth, inward and outward, a kind of nonlinear call-and-response that I’m stuck on, an outwardly visible division of the articulating self into parts that carry on an extended conversation: the rational, cognitive-self (and its need to order, whether narratively, by story, or in a systems kind of way), and then another part of self that works by other kinds of association, the kinds of unexpected association we think of when we think of the poem, insight, the detail of a painting, the unexpected juxtaposition that causes laughter.  Time leaps.

Some of these hybrid or mixed-genre works might look, and seem, at first glance, like essays, with the poem functioning as citation, reinforcing or bringing into evidence (as punctuation mark, or emphasis) that which the writer is investigating within the prose: Here! is the illumination!  But in the best of these works, prose and poetry are in a dialogue that is difficult to define. It isn’t exactly an argument, although there are elements of that. It isn’t exactly a narrative, although there are elements of the narrative, too. The parts converse with each other in ways that aren’t entirely linear, and which resonate spatially, as within a large space, as in acoustics, where sound reverberates from one wall to another, ceiling and floor, at angles.

Such correspondences, spaced pages apart, call attention to expanded space itself in a dialogue that moves between text in prose through correspondence in a vast space.  These kind of works work in a logic that is not readily apparent; the reader must make connections. It works, in other words, like a poem.  —Adria Bernardi



Adria Bernardi is the author of a collection of essays, Dead Meander, which received a Bronze Award in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of and essay/creative nonfiction.  She is the author of two novels, Openwork, and The Day Laid on the Altar, which was awarded the 1999 Bakeless Prize by Andrea Barrett.  A collection of short stories, In the Gathering Woods, was awarded the 2000 Drue Heinz Literature Prize by Frank Conroy.  She was awarded the 2007 Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Fellowship to complete Small Talk, a translation the poetry of Raffaello Baldini.  Her most recent translation, the poetry of Cristina Annino, Chronic Hearing: Selected Poems 1977-2012, was recently published by Chelsea Editions.  She has taught fiction-writing at the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  She lives in Nashville.

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[1] Kobayashi Issa, translated by Sam Hamill, The Spring of My Life and Selected Haiku, (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997), 2