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?

‘The Throes of Creation’ by Leonid Pasternak

Opting for an anthology.

I’d been thinking about prose poetry for some time before I bought The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry, back in March. What I mean is, this wasn’t one of those whim-purchases that I generally specialize in. It was a gap in my library that had niggled at my consciousness for some time.

The choices I’d found by trawling the internet were not extensive, but all looked interesting. I whittled my list down by deciding I wasn’t looking for a historical perspective. I’d discovered plenty of well-written articles and essays about that on-line, and then there was a call for submissions for an anthology by The Valley Press. It had a 2018 deadline, but I followed the links and found that the anthology had been published in 2019.

The blurb for it said, Prose poetry is at the cutting edge of contemporary writing, freeing words from the bounds of traditional poetic grammar and bringing the magic of verse to flash fiction.’ That sounded like the writing I was looking for.

Of course, it’s easy to make promises, and I wasn’t so sure about the claim that this volume was ‘ambitious‘ and ‘ground-breaking‘. It felt like a heavy sales pitch, for an anthology promoting brevity.

Maybe prose-poetry needs a harder sell. It is, after all, a hybrid form.

When I mention prose-poetry in classes, many readers haven’t heard of it. Often, those who have aren’t sure what it is. Few have bought any.

If asked, my advice to readers who are looking for adventure, is to try an anthology. That way, we meet lots of different authors, and there are likely to be at least one or two pieces of writing that we will be glad to have read. Single author collections are fine if you’re already familiar with their form, and style, but risky if you’re new to them. Most of my risks are cheap, found in the second hand market.

I thought about that, back in March, when I was dithering over buying this anthology. Do I support writers, as consistently as I do charity shops?

No.

Lately, my buying habit has been so focused on catching up with reading I’ve missed, that I’ve not thought about what’s new. Most of my books are ten years old, or more, and that age-gap is likely to increase as my shelves continue to overflow.

I don’t want my reading to keep up with my book buying. I like slipping across decades and centuries, styles, forms and genres. My bookshelves are also an anthology. They hold enough of a variety that I can dip in at random, choose by purpose, or turn to another title if a first choice doesn’t supply what I’m looking for.

Why else would I want to keep so many books?