…or better yet, what is the prairie poetry school? Is it a school? Is it a form? Is it a style? What is it? Why am I wondering?

I’ve been reading an essay by Dennis Cooley, “Placing the Vernacular: The Eye and the Ear in Saskatchewan Poetry”, and trying to discern what Cooley defines, or who and what he includes, in his brief yet interesting definitions of “prairie” poetry. Slicing the prairie (the prairie here being defined as Saskatchewan) in half, Cooley states prairie poetry centres on two distinct forms, “the first is fairly traditional and centres on the eye. The second is more recent (in the history of poetry but less so in the history of prairie poetry) and centres on the ear”. Landscape is important to the eye and speech to the ear. Further, Cooley stresses the eye poetry as emotive, highly lyrical “expressive language” that depicts an inward/outward, often passive reflection, in short, a self reflexive view of the world, while ear poetry is expressed as more dramatic, often engaging with the reader/audience on a different, less passive level. Cooley believes the two defining halves of prairie poetry are gender specific in the writing; “eye” poems, in Cooley’s view tend to be written by women, while “ear” poems seem to be penned by men. While he admits to there being exceptions to the rule, he sticks to his argument.

While I find defining a style/school of poetry an interesting concept, and structurally, I like having boundaries to cross, I’m wondering about the feasibility of such concentrated writing that cuts us in two. Can we define writing of the prairies as masculine and feminine? Mostly I’m filled with questions surrounding the term “prairie poetry”. What is it? Who are we?

I find Cooley’s formula could work for most geographical situations; there are “eyes” and “ears” everywhere. In each community, writers tend to bounce off those writers that came before, or those writers we admired, or even those writers we loved to hate. This prairie community is something that I belong to, but at the same time, through the expansive world of the internet, I find I also belong to a country of writers. While my early influences are those writing near me, and those teaching me, there is a world out there that I am slowly learning from as well. Is prairie form any different from any other Canadian form? Certainly we all write as differently as we can, do we not? Do we need to define and label our geographical communities as distinct, and what is gained by separating ourselves as unique?

If we were all the same, shouldn’t we be cut in two?