Reading: Because You Asked Me About The Line Between Prose And Poetry by Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) was a versatile American poet, known for his refined formalism (he wrote often anthologized sonnets like ‘A primer of the daily round’, as well as his wit. Here is a fine short poem about the reversibility of time:

Because you asked me about the line between prose and poetry
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

I like the fact that Nemerov was born on February 29th. It means that he could feel four times older or younger as he so wished. This small poem reverses the melting of snow and destruction of the flakes’ exquisite order. The sparrows are ‘riding a gradient’: the line between past and future? Between prose and poetry? The movement of the ‘you’ is backwards in time, since in the end the sparrows clearly flew instead of dropping dead. It is the result of a special kind of focusing that turns a bird feeding scene into poetry and allows us to experience time backwards.

Poetry as the magic that enables our imagination to decrease entropy, to untell a story with great precision. That might be about right.

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