"Our lives were kinder then . . ."

Today's post title comes from the first poem, "Why We Chose Northampton, 1977," in Brad Crenshaw's My Gargantuan Desirereleased this year from Greenhouse Review Press. The book (all prose poems) came to me courtesy of prose poet extraordinaire, Gary Young, who runs GRP. Gary has some fantastic things to say about prose poems in the latest issue of Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, things, in fact, that I've quoted in various application statements; for instance: “The prose poem is both supple and brazen, and it’s subversive insofar as it doesn’t look like a poem; the reader can be led to places he or she might ordinarily resist in a lined poem.” In a parallel statement, Crenshaw closes his book with "Apologia: Why Write Prose Poems?" and offers this sentiment: 

"I know there are languages that are not auditory — American Sign Language for one — but I am not composing poems in them. And let me admit I have nothing truly against the written word — I'm actually glad to have the alphabet. But I don't choose to accentuate its visual presence over the auditory being of language, and so I present my poems as prose: the invisible format. I have conceived of these poems as spoken aloud to someone dear to me; it could be you. I have also composed them as formal Shakespearean sonnets, after which I then dissolved the lines into their basic sentences. As I've said before, the rhythms and aural characteristics of language are integral. Visually breaking the flow of speech into lines is not. As prose, I am presenting poems with the metrical and auditory sophistication of the sonnet but embedded within the sinuous poetry of personal utterance."

In the past few months I've become more and more interested in the prose poem. I've learned that it is a subversive genre and rejects the formal constraints of poetry (obviously) but also of prose (which was a revelation to me). It has the power to do things with time that short stories and novels would die to do; the prose poem doesn't need white space to denote a shift in time or space; the prose poem can cover a second or span a lifetime; the prose poem can have its cake and eat it too, but it would rather shove the cake in your face and then punch you when you're blinded by frosting roses. Some, like Young and Crenshaw, favor prose poems that come gently, the kind of prose poems high school students could read and enjoy without feeling like they missed the point, even if they miss the technical metrical stuff that may be happening ever so unobtrusively within those sentences. Then there are more aggressive prose poets, whose words spiral and dip, twist and flip and do not let up. The prose poem can do it all. 

I'm especially interested in (and have been granted time and space to research/investigate) the idea that if a single prose poem, all by itself, is subversive to both the tradition of prose and the tradition of poetry, then the cumulative effect of prose poems — when arranged into a fragmented, yet single-narrative full-length book — might also be subversive to the traditions of the novel, the autobiography, the essay collection, and the poetry collection. On the other hand, I will also examine lineated novels and attempt to better understand the roles of (a) the line break (or line ending) within the context of narrative, expository scenes and (b) the relationship between sentences and fragments; and see if there is a connection between fragments/sentences and prose poems/full-length, single narrative books. 

It's an exciting project, and I'm grateful to have Sentence, Young's books, and now Crenshaw's, as models to discuss. Others on the list include:

  • Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red
  • Selah Saterstrom's The Pink Institution
  • CA Conrad's The Book of Frank
  • Jacques Roubaud's Some Thing Black
  • Alix Cleo Roubaud's Alix's Journal
  • Harry Mathews' 20 Lines a Day
  • Robert Walser's Speaking to the Rose
  • Jenny Boully's The Book of Beginnings and Endings
  • Mary Ruefle's The Most of It
  • Carole Maso's Aureole
  • Marie Carter's The Trapeze Diaries
  • Maggie Nelson's Jane: A Murder
  • Claudia Rankine's Plot
  • Johannes Goransson's Dear Ra
  • Eula Biss's The Balloonists. 
  • (I'd be grateful for recommendations, too, if you have any.)

To close, I'll add that Gary also sent along Carol Lem's Gathering the Pieces, which consists of lineated poems, and I'm looking forward to reading both titles.

"what with the skirts and dresses and aprons billowing out on the roofs and fire escapes and balconies, and all of the heads hanging out of the windows, and Aunt Miel's life utterly exposed"

This image just makes me happy and makes me think romantic things like old-timey airplanes propellering over lush gardens and all the tea drinkers looking up and going, Ooooh; I love long dresses, strappy dresses, one-shoulder dresses, ruffled dresses, big billowy dresses that drag behind, and I love water and rolling waves and think it's great that for this shot the dress is dragging in wet sand and everything here seems just perfect, perfect, yes perfect. I want this dress. I would wear it all the time, everywhere. She looks like seaweed spat up onto shore; I love that. Perfect.

It's Christmas. Merry Christmas. I wrote a Christmas story once; it was about an ethnobotanist (part of it ended up at elimae). I had fun researching that story; one of the better lines I look back on fondly is: "Immediate lab tests revealed severe hepatocellular damage and discovered acute renal failure, and half an hour later: dead. Postmortem histopathological study of his liver later confirms panlobular hepatic necrosis . . . " Yeah, I had fun writing that one.

Today's post title comes from Mary Ruefle's "The Most of It," from The Most of It, which is the best thing I've read in the past month or two. I go back to it again and again. There's something about the tone, throughout, that just floors me. Some of the pieces are real and some of them are fantastic and some of them are meditative and some are confessional and some are reportage and all in all it's an incredible collection; I only wish more collections existed that could as satisfactorily meet my reading needs for a cumulative, overall effect that delivers the same sort of rewards as reading novels. 

I was asked if I wanted this Dragon software, but I don't think it would do anything for me but slow me down. I mean, I think it would be fun to try, like as a novelty gag or something, but I'm fairly certain I wouldn't like it. My father, who thought otherwise, kept saying, "But wouldn't it be great for writing?" and I was like, "I don't think so. I need to see the words," and he said, "You do see them; it's no different from typing," and I was like, "Well, I mean I guess I think through my fingers," and he gave me a look like Kiddo's nuts. 

Feels good to be blogging again. I miss it. I mean, I have missed it. I think I'll try to make it a point to try to keep up with it more regularly. 

I have this character in a thing I'm worried about but it's the only thing I wrote all year so I hope it's better than I fear but anyway this is one of my favorite passages about her:

"The teacher lived near restaurants but chose to cook for herself. Her single financial indulgence was season’s tickets to the Center for Contemporary Arts. It was only a ten-minute walk from the fountain to the theater district. At the CCA that evening a comedy. She wanted modern dance instead. Always wanted dance instead. If she could do it over. Her childhood and all those years since. All that time and thought spent in practice devoted to the getting better at something. That something would be dancing. With her body she would say Look at me and weep. How it moves you."

"According to Rowling, Hedwig's life represents Harry's innocence."

Today's title comes from Wikipedia. Hedwig reminds me of Christmas, I think, because of the first movie, which reminds me of Christmas when I think about it. I saw the latest flick twice. Both times I thought, What an incredible thing she accomplished, as I stared at the backs of so many heads of so many people in the rows and rows before me and thought about how all of us in that theatre and all of us in all the theaters in the US and the UK and the United movie-watching World all over were having the shared experience of watching before us the lives of three main and however many minor characters that we have come to know and care about these many years. Having not read the books, I was very sad when I saw Hermione erase herself from her parents' lives. I was sad when the Dursleys just up and left. I was very sad when Hedwig died and Moody died and the one twin's ear got blown off. I was very sad when that little Dobby guy died (although I will say that the second time I saw the movie, I thought, Well, if he had just gotten them out of there without stopping to monologue he might have survived but I guess that's beside the point because his speech is the point, right? Live free and die, etc.?). But anyway, what a sad movie; the thought came to me again and again: How hard must it have been to let these characters go. I felt in awe of Rowling then. It is a nice feeling to have had and to be reminded of now. 

I wonder if there is anything according to anybody that represents my innocence. Nothing obvious that I can think of. But if I suddenly figure it out, I'll be sure to share. 

Christmas always feels like the end of the year to me. It's strange.

J. A. Tyler sent me a nice message on behalf of MLP. It made me very sentimental because 2010 has been a good year. Today is the first time I've thought about it. So much of my life has changed in these past twelve months. When I think "December 2009," though, I immediately think of WTMA, which came out December 15, 2009. When I think of that, I remember what I was doing, where I was on the east coast, celebrating a sort of mini-tour. I remember that copies of my book were waiting for me in Cambridge, where Timothy Gager had invited me to read. I opened that box and saw my book for the first time and held it in my hands and shook a little. I called J. A. Tyler immediately to gush and cry. He was like a worried father about those books, the contents of that cardboard box: "How do they look? Are you happy? Are there enough copies? Etc." I remember sitting outside and exploding. I probably splattered all over the sidewalk. And then I was off to Providence, where William Walsh had invited me to read. And then I went back to Philly, then back to Providence to hang out a bit, then back to the midwest, then back to Philly, and over the past year WTMA took me to Baltimore, New York, Philly, Denver, New York, Baltimore, Philly, Baltimore, Washington, New York, and Ann Arbor. And in all of that, I had a book to read from. It is a special thing to have, and I am grateful to all those who helped make it possible. Maybe this is silly, but I remember Porochista Khakpour came to the University of Cincinnati to give a lecture and she told us her goal had been to publish her first book by the age of 30. When she said that I made it a sort of secret goal for myself, too, but I never believed I would accomplish it. What an exciting year it has been. It is difficult to believe that it was only a year ago that WTMA came out. So much has changed — among other noteworthy differences, I have so much more security in my life, security I never thought I'd need or want, so I am grateful for the decisions and changes I made; and while these meant major life-altering decisions and geographical and mental shifts and etc. that loom so much larger in the memory than the little things that fill a year, it feels like WTMA has been a part of my life always. The wonderful thing about that sentiment is that it will be a part of my life always, so I am very grateful to J. A. Tyler and Mud Luscious for believing in me, in my words. Many, many thanks to J. A. Tyler (it's weird typing that because I don't call him that) and his family, and best wishes to everyone at MLP for the new year. 

It is so nice to have this chance to reflect like this, because I have pretty much not been doing anything but beating myself up all year because I have not written another book. I suppose major life-decisions and geographical and mental shifts and etc. are contributing factors, but really I know they are just excuses and poor ones at that. So I am resolved. 2011, here I come: I want to bring readers to tears, want them to be that emotionally invested; I want to write unforgettable characters; I want to write images that stun and awe; I want to give readers all the pleasures of the novel and all the pleasures of poetry and all the pleasures of film in a single go; I want to grab hold of their collars and never set them free. I want to gather all those who want or need to be captured and give them a world worth visiting while their real world hushes and fades. I want them to want to come back, and to stay. Perhaps these are silly wants, but they are mine and we shall see what comes of them.