Portfolio blues

..Well, maybe not exactly blues. Maybe more butterflies. I have to admit I am feeling pretty daunted. The first year of the Mst in Creative Writing has been quite a roller-coaster. It has been inspiring,  joyous and extremely challenging.

Study bedroom at Oxford

Study bedroom at Oxford

I can’t believe that the first year is nearly over already. But there are still a couple of mountains to climb. I have chosen to write my year 1 extended essay on Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. That’s mountain number one. I have been dancing around Stein all year and now I feel it is time to face up to her. Tender Buttons is extraordinary, funny, infuriating – and, if you write prose poetry, there to be grappled with. Here is one of my favourite Buttons:


A little monkey goes like a donkey that means to say that means to say that more sighs last goes. Leave with it. A little monkey goes like a donkey.


That means to say. Exactly. I will let you know how Gertrude and I get on.

But the second and higher mountain, the Everest of a mountain, is the portfolio. An initial draft has to be ready by June 9th, then the whole thing finished by early August. And I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I think my proposal sounds pretty damn hot. Here is it:

A Proposal for a Portfolio of Experimental Short Prose Poems:

I propose to write a collection of short prose poems exploring the potential of the prose lyric to play out the drama of the ‘decentered self’.  I intend to utilise prose poetry’s potential for incorporating a wider range of discourses than commonly found in lyric poetry (what many critics see as its tendency to heteroglossia) to dramatise the porousness of a self constructed from the interplay of internal and external forces.  I want to explore how the prose ‘block’ offers ways of both achieving and postponing unity, substance and solidity. Through focusing on the sentence (rather than the line) as the basic unit of organisation, I hope to explore how energising, intensifying or fragmenting syntax can dramatise the dynamism of the self and its engagement in active construction of meaning (or its opposite).

I plan to use a range of the ‘experimental’ strategies often associated with prose poetry, such as collage, direct speech, fragmentation, found text, the carnivalesque etc. The starting points for the poems will be the objects, food, and rooms that surround me, partly in response to Stein’s ‘Tender Buttons’ (‘Objects-Food-Rooms’) and partly because I am interested in how these things are the stuff of our material lives yet also shape the rituals and structures of our inner lives.

As I hope also to use this assignment to explore and clarify my own poetic in using the prose poem, I will also be keeping a reflective journal, extracts from which may also appear as part of the final sequence. 

Now I am wondering why I set myself so hard a challenge. Ah well. It is the season for Everest-climbing……wish me luck!


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