Some thoughts on, things found in small packages…

Forgive me my title. I do believe that cliches, used with care, can save a lot of ink. Is that statement an apology, or a quick means of opening up a conversation about three of the good things I’ve been reading in The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry?

I leave that for you to decide. I have, after all, steeped myself in brevity, this week. Surely I’ve absorbed something in the process.

Short as they’ve been, my readings have been resonant. Sometimes a title caught my eye.

Linda Black’s, My mother is locked in a jar of ginger, was one. I prepared to smile. I like quirky.

This prose poem is very short: a paragraph. It might, perhaps, be a joke. The four and a half lines begin, ‘I hear her battling with the lid‘. I anticipate what must be coming. I begin to smile.

It suits me not to let her out‘ the narrator says, and shifts the story so that it becomes something darker, and deeper, an exploration of a relationship, perhaps. Two characters are sketched out. It is a line drawing, no more. By the end of that fifth line I’ve filled in the colours of this mother and daughter, I can see them clearly.

In, Mowing, Liz Bahs states that she, ‘cannot write about mowing the lawn while I mow it.’ This is a longer prose poem, more than half a page which describes frustration, and consequences.

It’s driven by a series of repetitions that might mirror, ‘the rhythm of the blades over the deep field of grass‘, or the turning back and forth as she mows. This neglected lawn is ‘calf-deep and soaked from autumn rain‘. Mowing it is about bodily discomforts, and ‘the growl and shear as they [the blades] slice stones and muddy earth‘. Again and again, though, we return to that earlier complaint, ‘I cannot write...’

These disparate activities are described with precision, and juxtaposed in such a way that I had no idea how such a feeling of frustration might turn, in the final line, and become something bright. This is the best kind of twist-in-the-tail. I’m lead to reread it again and again, envious of its truth.

All You Need to Know, summarises the contents of several chapters from a murder mystery novel. But are the chosen details vital clues of a crime, or a series of interesting observations? Cliff Yates may be parodying the way cosy crime fictions focus on minute details, or celebrating it. Perhaps, the clue lies in his title. Is it a cliche?

In that case, how about the events? I probably can connect the baby crying in chapter two with the dog barking three chapters later, but what is the significance of ‘the chief witness’s best friend’s former girl-friend,’ changing a lightbulb, and how does the argument about the paradoxes of time travel fit this?

Perhaps the most significant moment of all is the fourth one. When ‘A neighbour’s cat vomits on the author’s carpet,’ I’m reminded that novels are not always neatly planned, some writer’s are pantsers, drawing inspiration from events we can’t begin to guess.

It’s my turn to give away clues, by taking you to the final sentence: ‘No one notices.’ If the other two prose poems sent me back to read them again, this one resonates without another look, and leaves me with a final question: when is a cliche not a cliche?

β€˜The Throes of Creation’ by Leonid Pasternak

35 thoughts on “Some thoughts on, things found in small packages…

  1. A cliche is such a tricky thing because they’re usually so true and succinct but we’re told we must avoid them! What a great post and I love The Throes of Creation, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoy reading poetry. It takes me to unexpected places, taps my deepest emotions.
    Murder mysteries are my favorite kind of stories to distract and absorb my often anxious mind. I delight in spotting the clues, only to be led astray. In my debut novel, I added a clue to a character’s sexual affair that “no one notices” until the reveal πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cliches are cliches because they’re things that happen to most on a frequency that they stop being surprising. But to answer your last question, a cliche stops being a cliche when it’s something that resonates deeply with you. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

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  4. I am hopeless when it comes to poetry, Cath, but since I have one of those little cloisonne jars, about three inches high, with a very small bit of my mother’s ashes in it, I laughed at the phrase, “I hear her battling with the lid.” The rest of my mother is buried under a crape myrtle tree in honor of her wishes which were to bury her under a flowering bush, later changed to, take me with you wherever you go. My sister and I went for both options, not being sure which was paramount. I’m sure my mom is not happy with either, preferring to be above ground and set free from the jar so she could continue to watch her grandchildren grow. ;-0)

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  5. I wish to read all that you read, but only after you have finished reading it so that first I can read your fantastic take on it and relish it and only then proceed.

    Cliches are important I guess, they have been passed on, they are meant to be retold for everyone to be on the same page. Maybe that is why all the massy movies use cliches so boldly.
    Thank you Cath for this crisp post. Loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely compliment, Jagriti, thank you.

      I think it helps all of us when we share our ideas about what we’ve read, we miss so much when we’ve only got our own view. I’ve found working with reading groups gives me so much more insight into stories I’ve thought I knew well. If you get that chance, I do recommend it.


  6. Charlee: “Our food is found in small packages.”
    Chaplin: “And by ‘found’ we mean ‘provided to us by human servants’ of course.”
    Charlee: “Of course. You know what else is found in small packages?”
    Chaplin: “Birds.”
    Charlee: “Yes, birds. We just love to stare at those small packages.”
    Lulu: “What about hawks? They’re not small. They’re probably bigger than you two cats.”
    Charlee: “We’ll still stare at them.”
    Chaplin: “But we, uh, wouldn’t want to be outside with them.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You know…I have to admit I was not expecting cat vomit in prose poetry, and yet, is it not part of daily life? Is there not a wealth of sensory sensations experienced by one who hears the words “cat vomit”? I shall never deny the power such words again. πŸ™‚ xxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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