Minnesota Poetry: Louis Jenkins’ “The Prose Poem”

Louis Jenkins was born in Enid, Oklahoma but has lived in Duluth for over 30 years with his wife Ann. His poems have been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies and he’s been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion numerous times. His book Nice Fish won the Minnesota Book Award in 1995. And Jenkins has this odd claim to fame; Actor Mark Rylance read Jenkins’ poetry for his acceptance speech after winning a Tony Award for the play Boeing-Boeing.

Here’s a prose poem by Jenkins from his book Before You Know It, a collection of his works spanning 35 years.

The Prose Poem

The prose poem is not a real poem, of course.

One of the major differences is that the prose

poet is incapable, either too lazy or too stupid,

of breaking the poem into lines. But all writing,

even the prose poem, involves a certain amount

of skill, just the way throwing a wad of paper,

say, into a wastebasket at a distance of twenty

feet, requires a certain skill, a skill that, though

it may improve hand-eye coordination, does not

lead necessarily to an ability to play basketball.

Still it takes practice and thus gives one a way

to pass the time, chucking one paper after an-

other at the basket, while the teacher drones on

about the poetry of Tennyson.

- “The Prose Poem” by Louis Jenkins, as it appears in Before You Know It, published by Will O’ The Wilsp Books. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

  • Cynthia Johnson

    When I asked him what a prose poem was, Louis replied “It’s a novel only shorter.”

    I’m still laughing…Love his “novels”!

  • Jeff Johnson

    Mostly clever, and now too often exposed.

  • Paul Johnson

    More from Garrison’s pet poet…’