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?