When is a poem …

I tend to write poems when they happen, in a way distinct from my prose writing which I make a fair effort to keep up, even when I’m struggling for ideas. This one I am not even sure is a poem, it’s more like prose in short lines. When I tried arranging it in standard prose paragraphs though, it died on the page. It’s certainly not a prose poem because they have a blocky shape, which this doesn’t.

It’s enough to get one thinking about what’s the difference between poetry and prose and after looking this up in a few places I conclude, for now anyway, that the difference is largely one of intent. So do I intend this as a poem or a prose piece? I don’t actually mind. It’s a piece of writing that has this shape on the page and call it what you like.

The conversation in the first part is “real.” I made notes as I eavesdropped on the train; I could never have invented what these two people say.

I’m very interested to hear what anyone thinks about this piece of writing. It’s easy to leave a comment, just click on the word “comments” preceded by a number at the bottom of the blog, write in the box that appears and click “post comment.”

I’ll do a separate blog about what I’ve been reading.

Going Somewhere

The girl on the train
tells the boy sitting opposite
she’s only got three months to go
to pushing this thing
out.

She’d rather push it out, she says
than be cut open.
Yeah, says the boy.
Terry’s partner has had hers
says the girl, she had to have
a caesarian, her baby was
eight pounds eleven ounces.
How old is she? asks the boy.
Fifteen, says the girl.

How old are you? asks the boy.
Sixteen, says the girl.
Well, that’s the end of your life,
says the boy.
Yeah, says the girl.

He’s got his student allowance
and he’s going to Porirua
to buy a game, says the boy.
The girl is going to Wainuiomata,
she doesn’t say why. She hopes
the train isn’t late or she’ll miss
her connection.

He smokes a packet of rolly
in two and a half days, he says,
rolling one for when he gets off the train.
You smoke more, says the girl, when you
roll them in advance. She takes
a sip from a bottle of orange liquid.

Have you thought of a name yet?
he asks.
Nah, it’s real hard, man.
Porirua. His stop.
Seeya. He flips a hand. She puts
in earphones.

She is beautiful, with a long smooth neck
shown to advantage by silver ear-rings that dangle
low and hair pulled back in what we called
a pony-tail. Big blue eyes. Perfect skin.
A profile that could be on an Egyptian vase.
There’s a silver stud in the middle
of the dip just under her lower lip.

Her hands are delicate and too small to lift
a crying baby in the middle of the night.

Later that day,
there are two young women on a bus,
sitting on the sideways seat at the front
with a boy child — you can tell by the clothes —
with four front teeth
and an empty chewing-gum packet to play with.
He sits between them, contented, while they talk.

The young woman who is not his mother
looks at the boy. ‘What did you do at the weekend?’
She asks him. ‘Did you get drunk? Party?
Have you got a girlfriend?’ She looks at his mother
and they both laugh, and the boy laughs
and offers her the gum wrapper.

She goes on doing that thing people do, where an adult has
a conversation with another adult over the head of a child,
now and then directing a look, a wagging finger, a sound, a smile
towards the child, and looking away before the child responds.

The child seems happy. At their stop his mother picks him up
easily, and slings him on her hip while she talks to her friend
about whether that shop over there is Dan Carter’s
new fashion underwear store
and they step
off the bus
together.

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