prose poetry

Sea shells and torsos in Bella Li’s 'Argosy'

'Argosy' by Bella Li, cover.
'Argosy' by Bella Li.

Sometimes writing poems is too much for me. I’ll be in no mood for words or for thinking with any depth on a matter. I cut and glue pictures and patterns instead. Collage is how I shift gears. There is something peaceful about cutting along the edge of an image. I have books on magic and mysteries of the world and Jane Fonda’s workout routine and children’s illustrated history books and books about space and land and science. I have folders where images and landscapes wait for me to find a use for them. I can follow my amateur (nonexistent) visual sensibilities as I piece together the cut-out phrases and headless bodies and mollusk shells, and it brings me simple pleasure. There are no painstaking decisions to make or moments where I completely shut down and question every decision I ever made leading up to this point. 

 

Sometimes writing poems is too much for me. I’ll be in no mood for words or for thinking with any depth on a matter. I cut and glue pictures and patterns instead. Collage is how I shift gears. There is something peaceful about cutting along the edge of an image. I have books on magic and mysteries of the world and Jane Fonda’s workout routine and children’s illustrated history books and books about space and land and science. I have folders where images and landscapes wait for me to find a use for them.

The urban interior-exterior ideal

A review of Donna Stonecipher's 'Model City'
Photo by Vadim Erent, 2011.

There is something easygoing about reading Donna Stonecipher’s Model City, which leads the reader through the pages as if on a walk. Lured inside this landscape, we are invited to see, to reflect, to ponder, to muse, to sense the spaces in these seventy-two “model cities,” but also outside of the pages in the world which surrounds us.

Timed instants

A review of Cole Swensen's 'Landscapes on a Train'

Swensen’s anaphora is both visual and audible. The turning of the train’s wheels, the up-and-down of the hills, the words and end-stops, the rise and fall of gears and gaskets, noun and verb like metal pressing metal, run the train faster and faster through the landscape until outside is confounded and melds into such twinned, twined images as: “A / Train across open land opens night. (A train lands all night across an open field)” (11).

I am on the TGV Lyria from Paris to Mulhouse reading Cole Swensen’s newest poetry collection, Landscapes on a Train. I am awash in “The infinite splitting of finite things”[1] as these one to five long-lined prose poems pass before my eyes with the rush and rumble of the train, the staccato catch and jostle of unexpected punctuation, the blur of the greens outside echoed in:

Green. Cut. And I count: the green of the lake the green of the sky and the field
Which is green and is breaking. (7)

Mahh-racas

Marcelo Morales in Vedado, 2015.  By Alejandro González.
Marcelo Morales in Vedado, 2015. By Alejandro González.

Photographer Alejandro González (b. 1974) has become known for portraits of people that, when shown in groups, become portraits of their cities. Seen above in a photograph taken by González in summer 2015, writer Marcelo Morales (b. 1977) recently completed a new poetry collection that registers personal and collective change in Vedado, a neighborhood within Havana, during the much-publicized transformations hitting Cuba in recent years. 

The Canadian prose poem

Notes toward an essay I haven’t quite written

a fragment of our poetry shelf
a fragment of our poetry shelf

A few years ago, reading through issues of the now-defunct Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics started me thinking about the prose poem in terms of difference between Canada and the United States. As much overlap as our two countries have, the evolution of the nebulously-termed “prose poetry” has been different, and yet, at least on this side of the border, the form hasn’t been (for what I’ve been able to find) much explored in terms of possibility, genealogy and influence. Back in May 2012, as a prelude to composing a possible essay to explore the subject, I sent out an email to a variety of individuals, and even a couple of list-serves, seeking information:

The sort of person you imagine (PoemTalk #18)

Lydia Davis, 'A Position at the University'

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PoemTalk finally goes squarely at the question of authenticity, and — wouldn’t you know it? — we do so through a piece that is not in any conventional sense a poem. Lydia Davis’s “A Position at the University” (published with other similar short prose pieces in Almost No Memory) suggests to Jessica Lowenthal that on this day our show was “PoemProseTalk.” Fair enough. Is it a very short story — in the mode of what we call “fiction”? Not really. Is it a poetic parable in prose? (It struck Al at one point as very much like a pondering paragraph from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.) Thank goodness we brought sociologist David Grazian along. David observes that this piece is like an ethnographic field note. A field note that observes the following: In daily life, authenticity functions the way imagination does. What advantage is derived by writing about authenticity in this linguistically circular manner, in the grammar of mild-seeming discontent? Well, for one thing, it stipulates a poetics; the language of the piece makes us acutely aware as we read or listen that anxiety is the close kin of identity, because identity-naming is always partial whereas the named/identified subject is always hoping for wholeness. That discrepancy — that difference — creates a weird aura, and perhaps this is why Adrian Khactu senses that this piece belongs in the category of mundane SF, the newish sci fi mode in which there are no monsters, scientific abnormalities, cruel transformations. Perhaps the cruelest transformation is what happens every day when a person who thinks of herself in one way is assumed to have a “position” otherwise.

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