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A Definition Essay on Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Colonel’ Essay

A prose is a poetic genre between a free verse and a poem. It has fewer restrictions and rules. Likewise, a prose poem lacks formal structure, may have metrical structure of versification but in paragraph form. As defined in Glossary of Poetic Terms (2006), “it is a piece of writing which features the charged language normally associated with poetry but which does not feature stanzas or line breaks. ” It also has patterned structure, but in a continuous sequence of sentences. It contains the poetic characteristics like rhythm, aura and syntactic repetition.

The thought is compressed and has sustained intensity. With the advent of contemporary literature, especially with the popularity of modernist pieces, every modern poet has taken the opportunity to experiment with various forms. These pieces are considered experimental poetry because they do not conform to the conventions of contemporary literature. Most poets who work in this genre agree that a prose poem should be thematically structured like a poem and must have musicality (although prose is not rhythmic).

These are some distinguished characteristics of poetry. There may be a more extensive use of imagery and metaphor. The lines are broken in margin breaks and stanzas are represented by paragraphs. Thus, prose poem has all the functions of poetry and delivers its basic function which is to show and not to tell. In effect, regardless of compromising its form, a prose poem still is able to retain the qualities and characteristics unique of poetry. A prose poem stands out because it employs a form that does not require the usual line cutting or stanza divisions.

In other words, the prose poem foregoes of the usual requirement for poetic form but does not forego all the other conventions of poetry. So, one will still normally find figurative language, tone, symbolism, and other poetic in a prose poem as one would find them in a normal poem. Therefore, a specific poem is still a poem even though it is written in prose without the traditional stanzas. A famous example of this genre is ‘The Colonel’ by an American poet Carolyn Forche.

It was written in 1978 while Forche was working for Amnesty International in El Salvador, a recount of a brutal encounter with ‘the colonel’, the poem’s title character. Forche describes the main character as a hard man in a violent world. ‘The Colonel’ does not care for the rights of his subordinates and in the poem he is introducing his evil nature to a poet as he says, “Something for your poetry, no? ” (Line 21). (Logan 1) According to William Logan (2007), the intent of the poem is to describe the nature of a brutal man that reflects in the structure of the poem which is equally brutal on the eyes and ears.

This strong character of the poem is reinforced in its presentation of complete irony with short poetic flourishes in its distinct appearance, length and brevity of sentences. ‘The Colonel’, as Logan describes it, has the subtlety of a brick wall along with his friendliness is paralleled in the poem’s appearance. Perhaps this piece is easy to confuse between a poem and a prose or a short story. However, if it is carefully analyzed one finds that it has all the trappings of a good piece of poetry. Tone, for example, is one evident element in poetry which highlights its musicality.

In the following lines: “I was in his house… The moon swung bare… Broken bottles were embedded …We had dinner… His wife took everything away …The parrot said hello … He spilled many human ears (lines 1, 5, 7, 11, 17, 18 22)…” These beginning lines of each sentence introduce a certain degree of escalation implying a crescendo in the tone of the poem which is one effective device in poetry. Another device used is repetition and this gives the reader an instant recall of the poem itself. It gives a melodic sound which is evident in any given poem.

This compresses the rhythm in the gradual movement of events until the final killing act by the Colonel. There is a song-like ending to ‘The Colonel’ as in the two intonations of “Some of the ears”. (Logan 1) Forche approaches the poem in the first person as noticed in the beginning lines: “What you have heard is true. I was in his house” (line 1). The degree of intensity started with the introduction that appears to be calm and soothing with a description of the Colonel’s seemingly normal family – a typical wife who does the chores, a daughter and a son who do their normal routine typical of those youngsters.

The reader might not know that this is in the home of a butcher. (Logan 1) At first, it gives a feeling of homeliness welcoming the reader to a typical domestic home: “There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him” (line 3). But having that line ‘Pistol on the cushion’, Logan explains that the scene quickly shifted to a darker shadow of the Colonel. His violence aided by his weapon is implied in the lines “The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house” (line 4), suggesting that he is as a torturer and murderer.

His unusual nature manifested also in the way he designs his house: “Broken bottles were / embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a / man’s legs or cut his cut his hands to lace” (line 5-7). This design justifies that he doesn’t really care for the welfare of the people around him. Thus the house is a home with violence. To further justify its classification, other poetic devices are also obvious in ‘The Colonel’. Forche has a strong use of simile such in the lines “They were like dried peach halves,” which she used to bring to life for the readers a complete image.

The line suggests a horrific scene, although the poet cannot find an appropriate description, but with equally gloomy context. The use of parrots, mangoes and peaches presented a beautiful tropical setting on the surface of all the gruesome acts. This depicts the poet’s strong use of irony of a brutal murder in a simple and plain simile. And that bag of ears explains the dark atmosphere shadowing the poem. (Logan 1) The poem’s visual appearance also has an impact on the eyes.

Having the main image as the brick wall, it appears to be a black rock on the page with just a tiny hole to let out little light. Closely it is made up of strong bricks fronting a lifeless, dull image. In the wall are tiny details such as the tray of coffee and sugar, the daughter filing her nails, the papers, the pet dogs, the pistols, attached on it, each having its own part in the poem. As the wall breaks into individual bricks, the poem also presented each detail into individual units which brings the reader to a shock, unknowing of what is about to happen.

(Logan 1) This brings the reader to the understanding of the poem’s dramatic image. In its entirety, ‘The Colonel’ is effective in giving a string verbal and visual attack. Thus, having identified some of the devices and elements present in poetry, Forche’s ‘The Colonel’ obviously falls in the poetic genre. Its effective use of irony, simile, repetition, and metrical effects, as well a driving rhythm and a stony appearance is a perfect blend of a poem and free verse.

Prose poetry offers opportunity for writers to write error free and to safely land in a new genre without the hassles and experiencing syllabication pressures. As being said earlier, prose poem offers the writer an interesting blend of poetry and prose. As presented in ‘The Colonel’, a prose poem contains a narrative line similar to a short story but its dramatic mood is usually more important than the plot. Furthermore, it differs from a short piece of fiction because the syntax, style, typography, use of sparse imagery and understatement is obviously related to poetry.

The prose poem is open to any subject and theme, but noticeable as in ‘The Colonel’ is the format which is especially suited for writing the dramatic, narrative poem with mostly a strong figure and character. Thus, a prose poem is poetry in motion. So, in reading Forche’s ‘The Colonel, while one may be intimidated by its form and the way it appears on the page, it can actually be considered as poetry having its use of the conventions that most poetry is associated with, these being the use of poetic language, literary and figurative devices and the subscription to poetic intention.

Therefore, a literary piece such as ‘The Colonel’ can be classified as a poem regardless of its structure. Works Cited Forche, Carolyn. “The Colonel. ” Poemhunter. com. Retrieved 30 April 2010 from <http://www. poemhunter. com/poem/the-colonel/>. Glossary of Poetic Terms. (2006). Poets Grave Website, 30 April, 2010 from http://www. poetsgraves. co. uk/index. html. Logan, William. Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel”. 21 September 2007. Poetry of the Week. com 30 April 2010 from <http://www. poemoftheweek. org/id93. html>.


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