"Our Cat’s Fascination With Water" by Al Zolynas utilizes strong images to describe the established morning routine of the speaker and his cat. Reading it we detect the presence of metaphor, vivid imagery, as well as emotional and personal viewpoints. All these things are familiar elements of poetry, and yet the piece looks like prose. It could easily pass as a paragraph out of a longer piece of writing or an example of micro fiction.
Zolynas has told us a story. We picture him turning on the faucet for his cat’s entertainment and learn this has happened almost every morning for the last two years. The narrative covers the present and gives us a bit of history. To some extent there is even a plot; we can easily follow the sequence of events. These are all elements of narrative, but on the other hand the piece has the unmistakable feeling of poetry.
Some argue prose poetry is a poetic form, others see it as a type of prose which draws upon poetic elements. Still others view it as an entirely separate genre. In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, "Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels."
Prose poetry by its construction and nature invites a discussion on the definition of poetry. To be a poem, are short lines required? Do we need verses, stanzas, meter and all of poetry’s trappings before something poetic can take place? Where is the dividing line between prose and poetry, or can the two be melded together?
The prose poem is generally said to have emerged from France in the 19th century when the strict Alexandrine form dominated poetry. The form was adopted by the British Decadent movement in the late 19th century, but the Decadent’s association with homosexuality delayed the prose poem’s widespread acceptance in England.
Zolynas compares his cat's excited pupils to a black flame. The image of silver water is echoed in the mirror’s silver reflection, and we are compelled to compare the piece’s use of color. The chain of water which interests the cat every morning could easily represent something about life, or perhaps the thread of life itself. As the speaker narrates, watching and interpreting the cat's movements and reactions, there is a feeling of detachment as well. Like the omnipresent third party narrator, the speaker’s own image watches from within the mirror.
This third party in the mirror may shed some light on Zolynas' choice of form. While the images are clearly poetic, the presence of a third party who is watching and somehow involved in the narrative, brings the piece into the realm of prose. With this combination, neither fully poem or fully prose, the piece seems most at home balanced on banana peels in the precarious world of prose poetry.