After graduation, after a divorce, after an election
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— for Wendy
Those winding roads where we stuck out
our thumbs to any cars that came.
Wyoming: miles of cowboys, mountains
we’d never climb
that seemed to love us anyway,
looming, as they did, no matter
where we stood.
The little steak knives
we put in our purses,
thinking we’d use them
if we had to: How would you like to be
altered? we practiced saying
and then cracked up,
in purple halters
on the gravel highway shoulder,
stumbling in our too-high heels,
making up our faces
and our lives. I wish I could
tell those girls
how beautiful they are,
but they can’t hear me.
The sky’s so big above them,
they can’t even see it.
Ruth L. Schwartz
Poetry is more condensed and image-driven than prose. It also tends to use many devices of sound — alliteration, assonance, consonance — and its syntax is based on musicality rather than grammatical rules. Although I’m not able to objectively comment on whether “Beauty: 1976” is a “good” poem, I do think it makes use of these poetic techniques. If it were rearranged as prose, it would feel awkward and incorrect.
I have enjoyed modern poetry since I first encountered it in my rebellious youth, but all these years later I still don’t understand what makes it poetry. “Beauty: 1976” and “Intrigue in the Trees” — by Ruth L. Schwartz and John Brehm, respectively — are two examples from your April 2016 issue. Both would be just as interesting presented as prose. Surely they don’t become poetry simply because sentences are broken into uneven lines. So why is it poetry?