Zumwalt Poems Online

Wednesday Poetry Challenge #1

What is the different between poetry and prose?

I  cannot answer that.

Some might say poetry has evolved so that the only difference is that poetry has stanzas.  However, with the increasing popularity of “prose poetry” (poetry written in prose instead of verse) that really doesn’t hold either.

Is poetry more compact, more formal, more stylized, more imaginative, more emotional, more personal, more abstract, more symbolic?

Does poetry use more imagery?

Does poetry use poetic devices such as rhythm, meter, rhyme, alliteration, emphasis on certain sounds?

I have no idea.

That is something that each individual poet has to come to terms with.

Every poet and every reader has their preferences.  Hopefully these preferences are not static and change as the poet develops, as the reader develops, and, ideally, as the poet and reader, being the same person, develop.

For Challenge #1, pick a passage from a novel, essay or short story that qualifies as prose, but for you is particularly poetic. Then without changing a word or punctuation mark, reformat that so it appears to be poetry.

For example,

From the opening of Theodor Dreiser’s American Tragedy:

Dusk —
of a summer night.
And the tall walls of the commercial heart
of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants —
such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.

And up the broad street,
now comparatively hushed,
a little band of six, —
a man of about fifty, short, stout,
with bushy hair protruding
from under a round black felt hat,
a most unimportant-looking person,
who carried a small portable organ
such as is customarily used
by street preachers and singers.

And with him a woman
perhaps five years his junior,
taller, not so broad,
but solid of frame and vigorous,
very plain in face and dress,
and yet not homely,
leading with one hand a small boy of seven
and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books.

With these three,
but walking independently
was a girl of fifteen,
a boy of twelve
and another girl of nine,
all following obediently,
but not too enthusiastically,
in the wake of the others.
It was hot,


with a sweet languor
about it all.
Crossing at right angles
the great thoroughfare
on which they walked,
was a second canyon-like way,
threaded by throngs and vehicles
and various lines of cars
which clanged their bells
and made such progress
as they might amid swiftly moving streams of traffic.


the little group seemed unconscious
of anything
a set purpose
to make its way
between the contending
lines of traffic
and pedestrians
which flowed
by them.

How poetic is the opening to Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities?

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way —
in short,
the period
was so far like
the present period,
that some of its noisiest authorities
insisted on its being received,
for good or for evil,
in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw
and a queen with a plain face,
on the throne of England;
there were a king with a large jaw
and a queen with a fair face,
on the throne of France.
In both countries
it was clearer than crystal
to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes,
that things in general were settled for ever.

So simply chose something that you’ve read before and were previously impressed by its poetic nature — or browse from the nearly endless resources of prose on the internet to find an example of poetic prose that works for you.

What and where is the benefit of this first exercise?  Does one benefit more from picking an example or from reading others’ selections?

I am completely clueless.

Enjoy this first challenge.  No selection is considered unpoetic if it is poetry for your heart, ears, soul or mind!

There are many resources for selecting prose works.   A good starting point is Project Gutenberg Australia.

Best to use something in the public domain (no longer under copyright) as Poetry Challenge #2 will also refer to your chosen “prose” text.

For further instructions, please reference the Wednesday Poetry Challenge Introduction.

To add a link to your post



1.  Click on green “Mister Linky” link above.

2. Enter the URL (address of response not of your website) of your post or page that has your response to this challenge.

3. For this challenge, take a passage from a novel, short story or essay and reformat it to resemble a poem — or a prose poem if that is your stylistic preference.

4. Anyone that wishes to see anyone’s examples, can click on the Mister Linky link above to view any and all of responses.


Comments on: "Wednesday Poetry Challenge #1" (19)

  1. Help I am trying to enter a post and I have no idea what I have done if anything …I have been to the link but nothing seems to happen , and I am worried I may of published the wrong post or published it twice!!!HELP!! The My Linky page introductions is a page not found!! sorry but please!!!


    • willowdot21,

      Your link was successfully captured by “Mr. Linky” Thanks for being the first to partcipate. Enjoyed the Hans Christian Anderson. I think you made the perfect selection for you for Poetry Challenge #2. I can’t wait to see what you do with that challenge as I anticipate it will be classic willowdot21 prositry!


  2. Hello Zum, I love this post and the ideas you challenge us to think about. My selection in the prose as poetry department would be just about all of Tolkien’s “Return of the King”.


    • Yes, that are so many wonderful poetic passages in Tolkien not including the actual poems/songs. If you can pick a single passage as an example that would be great. Then you can link to it via Mr. Linky. (Though I am not sure that Tolkien is public domain — maybe depends on the country.)


  3. good to see your blog – nicely done


  4. Beautifully done because it is so thought provoking.


  5. deanjbaker and Randall — thanks for the comments!


  6. I would nominate, among many others, the last paragraph of Joyce’s “The Dead.”

    Nabokov includes in one of his novels a “famous American sonnet” that is actually a collage of fragments from _Moby Dick_.

    The difference between prose and poetry is that poetry is in the poetry section. I’m not really joking: by labelling something as poetry, you are making a statement about what kind of readers you want and what expectations they should have.


  7. What an interesting idea. I always find myself drawn to prose writers whose words sing. Seeing the Dickens extract set out as a poem is really interesting. Thanks


  8. What a great idea this is! My choice is:

    “The great tapestries of trees had darkened
    to ghosts back at the last edge of twilight.
    The early moon had drenched the arches
    with pale blue and weaving over the night,
    in and out of the gossamer rifts of moon,
    swept a song, a song with more than a hint
    of sadness, infinitely transient, infinitely regretful”
    — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”


  9. Different difference. Buzz buzz. Formatting is everything.


  10. first i wanted to thank you for your detailed feedback and good thoughts on my poem..will ponder them…second – this is a great idea what you’re doing here…i once read the first side of samuel beckett’s novel “the chemistry of death” and somehow – even if not poetic on first view…it stirred me to write a poem “death’s chemistry” using his examples… think poetry is everywhere if we look at things carefully


  11. I’m thinking about it….. (~_~)


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