I have always wondered at this word. It is endlessly intellectual. Eloquent. A word that seems to exist in a higher heaven than I. An assignment at university demands: “use your best prose.” What prose? I was not issued prose like socks from a military supply room. I do not slip my feet into a good pair of prose when given a mission to write. Endless assignments call for prose, then I search my office, looking for misplaced socks.
“I write prose.”
How fancy! Underlings, take note of my nostrils as the nose points skyward. It is a statement for which I feel inadequately prepared to own. I am neither a recognized author of classical literature, nor a mondain bohemian, elevated beyond the reach of ignorant miscreants.
“Can I write prose?”
It is a word I’ve connected to poets like Shakespeare or Coleridge. But can it be more than poetry? Is it even poetry? The professor of a college course can speak of prose as something common in educated circles, like a physicist speaks of neutrinos. They sound delicious. “Yes. I’ll have the Earl Gray, steeped in prose with two lumps. Also, toast with the gluten-free neutrino spread. Merci.” Am I uneducated?
Alas! It is prose. Its immortal beauty enshrined in the flower constituting its name: a rose, fragrant and sharp. When tended and pruned, it will endure for centuries like the roses in Tombstone where, ironically, the plant outlives the residents. In the home of gun fights and mine tours, horse-drawn carriages plod along paved roads, dumping manure behind an avocado-colored Prius. There are also roses, and writers of proses.
A columnist builds columns as a journalist compliles journals. A bard weeps his ballads as the poet dies to her poems. An essay is produced by an essayist, just as novelists bleed novels. The critic seethes criticism of works he could not write, as a playwright…wrights…plays. That’s not write.
But what of prose? What word have we for one who proses? A wordmonger or fictioneer? Nay! A writer of prose! It is as confusing as writing copy. Do I write, or do I copy what others have written? Yes, and no.
To master my prose, I mimic the masters. The laureates. It was said of Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Noble Prize for Literature, “Munro’s stories reveal her as a consummate artist who is without question among the most accomplished masters of the short story. And of prose fiction.” There is a prose fiction! Of Camilo Jose Cela, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, it is said the reason for being selected was “for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability.” Masters, all of them. Their acceptance speeches could also win awards, if there were such a system for doing so. Write and copy them.
For the sake of News, I write copy. Poorly, though, as time is limited; but quickly, because speed matters more than facts. Maybe both are true. I want the story, and only the story. I want facts and don’t care for opinions. Just tell me what happened. To give me your unsolicited opinion is to insult my ability to create an original idea, to come to my own conclusion. Your copy sounds like all the others: “Blame the Congress! Blame the President! We’re all gonna Die!”
Copywriting and writing copy, in a whirlwind of partisan ideologies, are, in fact, cornerstones of our freedom. To take them away, or simply for granted, is to surrender the freedom to create masterpieces, and purple prose. It may sound surreal but in 1958, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak won the Noble Peace Prize in Literature “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” A footnote under his citation states: “Boris Pasternak first accepted the award, but was later caused by the authorities of his country to decline the prize.” Why would Russia in the 1950s forbid someone from accepting an international prize? Especially one awarding a considerable sum of money.
But prose. It is an intimidating word, like predicate. When writing, I wonder if this is it. Can this be the prose I’ve been longing for? Should it be fact or fiction? Non-fact or nonfiction? Both, maybe, and all of them. I can create something from nothing, ex nihilo, and submit it to a tabloid. Out of print it may be, but the creation is certainly mine. Will a falsity based on truth be enough? Enough fame? Enough fortune? Enough prose?
I can chronicle the life in this house. Does anyone care? Save the few prose-aphobics who follow my blog, no one is likely to notice. Pete Rose was eventually a writer, and what a name for a practicing prose-ician: P. Rose! Had I found myself without pseudonym upon this writing, P.Rose it would have been. Rose wrote prose about baseball.
I study the words, the rhyme and the rhythm. The pace, interrupted by breath, dictates my intent. I divulge my confusion and admiration for these words when I call them prose. But what is prose? Simply put, prose is the ordinary language used in speaking and writing. It is the language intended to give information, relate events, or communicate ideas or opinions. It is also “a literary medium distinguished from poetry by its greater irregularity and variety of rhythm, its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech, and its detailed and factual definition of idea, object, or situation.” (Merriam-Webster Inc.)
The Bible, then, should count as prose. It contains histories, poems, songs, and the Good News of a risen Christ. It gives information to us about how God created the universe; it is uncanny the specific order of the Creation. God relates events to us like the Fall, the Flood, and the Resurrection. He gives us his opinions about how man should approach volatile entities like money, or a nagging wife. But of greatest importance, God communicates to us the idea and hope of forgiveness.
Prose is writing. This is prose. This article, a product of days of labor and research, matches the definition. What separates my prose from those of Nobel-Prized Laureates is the polishing, the trimming, and the painful commitment they make to keep writing. I study them and their works, and I write. I write like them and after them, hoping that another young writer will find the gall to do the same.
Merriam-Webster Inc. “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language.” Prose. Vol. 2. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1986.
The Nobel Foundation. All Nobel Prizes in Literature. 2019. 16 November 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/lists/all-nobel-prizes-in-literature/>.
( Note: I wrote this composition as an assignment for a college course. I was to choose a cultural outlet for which I wanted to write, then craft an article that matched the tone and pace of other articles already published. I chose Mockingbird [https://mbird.com/] as my cultural venue.
I chose to publish the rough draft of the article here for entertainment and feedback as I continue to revise, or scrap, this article in preparation for publication. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I especially loved digging into the lives of Nobel Laureates during my research.
Thanks for reading!)