The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 29 February 2016
These are the penultimate guest pieces; see the final one soon, heading my closing blog for this month.
Thank you all for sending your work in – more than I have room for – and, as usual, for reading my blog with these rich contributions.
The land is cupped by distant hills, lies open to the sky in its morning blush, a flight path for birds. The whisper of fluttered leaves, an early bee fumbling the roses. Clover and moss spring under my feet, unbowed and unbidden. The blackbird treads with circumspect steps, his eye on the blackberries; damsel-flies hover and pause on the lily-pads. A garden, reclaimed from a turkey farm (there has been so much death). It speaks in the tongues of the wind through towering beeches, in a disputation of rooks, the monotony of chiff-chaffs. Chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff. Its denizens share domestic resources, spiders hang out on the washing-line, stretch traps between runner-bean stakes; mason bees make nests in the insets for screws on the hose-pipe casing. Who would have thought? Leaving, the garden stays in my mind like the dead, continuing its many and varied lives (there is so much life).
Grey mist, thick as a blanket many times washed. Envelops and blinds, clings thickly, bringing no warmth, only tombstone chill. The ferns are decaying in russet and chestnut, a rich dissolution; the colour of the earth as they die to embrace it. Stalks of evening primrose, pale gold and black, their summer yellow lost long ago. They quiver and vibrate as goldfinches pick and pull at their seeds, sustaining themselves on the lost flowers’ future. At the end of the lane, a sprig of cotoneaster, berries outrageously red against pale green laurel. In the drained and wan colours of winter and twilight such rubicund glamour is incongruous here; glows as if summer has broken through from a brighter world. Back home, damp larch logs burn uneasily, discharging scales like a burnt-out dragon.
© Hilaire Wood
Hilaire Wood lives in West Wales near the sea. Her prose poems are born of jottings and musings from walks around her milltir sgwâr - her ‘patch’. She blogs about poetry at www.storingmagic.blogspot.uk and has published a poetry pamphlet, The Sea Road.
Sunday, 28 February 2016
Today's little prose poem from Lindsay draws strength from its overt simplicity but huge implicit range.
Blue Sky Thinking
Have you ever longed to visit an alpine sanatorium where you could sit on a terrace and stare into the middle distance? We are never so far from the edge of thin ice that our hearts can be stilled. And what if this alpine sanatorium to which we now imagine you have been sent requires that you listen to ambient music, day and night? Psychiatrists in Zurich predict you would come to question the concept of self. Or lower your standards. You think of a snail. You think of a snail on the step of the terrace. You think of a snail on the step of the terrace being crushed by a boot. There is no distance.
© Lindsay MacGregor
Lindsay lives near Cupar in Fife, Scotland, and co-hosts Platform, a regular music and poetry night at Ladybank Station. Her pamphlet, The Weepers, is published by Calder Wood Press.
Saturday, 27 February 2016
Gerald takes a risk in his repetition of the word 'white'; I notice the slightly mesmerising effect this has on a reader.
I'm enjoying a quality in these pieces that somehow couldn't be English, though I don't quite know why I say that other than the poet's obvious familiarity with living with snow (and it's not just the spelling of 'plow'). Hope you enjoy this too; as always, comments welcome.
The morning is a flat white white,
dull white sky over matte white snow.
The woman who was once a girl
poses for a profile in a smooth white
jumpsuit unzipped to her stomach
exposing fat flat tits and cleavage.
I glance at the photo on my phone,
thinking I knew her mother at that age.
The snow is fresh on the drive to
town where the new government is
holed up, scheming, in the white hotel.
Back home I fire up the old plow truck
and drive it up and down the drive,
pushing curls of snow, and scraping
thin layers of dirty gravel as the blade
sparks loudly across the ground.
By now the clouds are gone and the
sun is shining, melting and widening
the holes in the snow where the edge
has exposed the cold brown earth.
The snow had fallen everywhere, thick
and soft and white, the day before.
He stands naked in the dark room. Moonlight
lights up a set of squares on the wooden floor.
He dreams. He’s giving a political talk. It’s dark.
There’s a big crowd, faceless people sitting at
round tables. He may or may not be speaking.
To his left his friend Norman appears under a
soft spotlight and introduces the entertainment.
His political speech isn’t over. He broods. But
Norman knows and smiles. Dim pools of light
open on three enormous drums, each with two
drummers, each holding a stick as big as a log,
Norman grooving as timber hits stretched skin,
sound radiating out in quiet, thundering waves.
His daughter yells: the puppy is peeing on the
floor. He opens his eyes. Grey light. It snowed
last night. He goes downstairs to make coffee.
Mortality frightens us, he thinks, remembering
the effect his white beard has on interviewers
who secretly want that sharp young coworker
standing beside them. But it’s not the mortality
that frightens them, he realizes. It’s the losing.
He anticipates plowing the snow. And shaving.
© Gerald McEachern
Along with poetry, Gerald also writes op-ed columns, fiction and advertising copy. His career extends over several decades, his work beginning in visual art and design and leading ultimately to writing. Career projects range from doing the design blueprints for a four-person submarine to developing an advocacy campaign that led to a university gaining a medical school campus.
He writes poetry much as he practiced photography for a decade, for personal exploration. The place that interests him most is the intersection of animation and mortality. Gerald lives on the east coast of Canada beside the sea with his wife and their five children.
Friday, 26 February 2016
A voyage, an adventure. Life distilled to essence. No fringes and frills or hand-bags and brollies. Your back holds your pack, your hands are free to tangle with wind and leaves, to scratch, or tap out a tune in the air. The stretch of the stride, the swing of the arms, the beat of the feet tracing the shapes of the land which tells its stories as you tell yours. And your breathing marks time like a tide. The track is a strand of time, marching forward carrying its layers like skirts that swirl in the wind, flash in the light, glitter in rain, then soak it all up. Switch off thoughts, arouse your senses, switch on alertness, and this strip of land – curving winding climbing falling; wriggling slipping or suddenly vanishing – reappears, straightens and stretches out to become your home. Feel me and you’ll know me intimately, it says. Beguiled, be wild with me, fall into me and find your pace and I’ll carry you on and beyond and beyond yourself.
© Miriam Hancock
Miriam says: After careers in psychiatric social work and music, I now write – inspired by anything/everything, especially landscape and the elements.
Three poems, about Jewish-English identity, published by Jewish Renaissance and The Jewish Quarterly; now working on a novel which tries to convey music, landscape and walking through words. This prose-poem is an extract.
Thursday, 25 February 2016
© David Borthwick
David is a walker in the rain and a wanderer of fields, who teaches on the Environment, Culture & Communication masters programme at the University of Glasgow's School of Interdisciplinary Studies.
He's @BorthwickDave on twitter.
Monday, 22 February 2016
Today's poet is Rachael Clyne, who lives in Glastonbury. Her prizewinning collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, (Indigo Dreams) is about nature and the wild self. Anthologies: The Very Best of 52, Book of Love and Loss, Poems for a Liminal Age. Magazines: Poetry Space, Reach, Tears in the Fence, Fat Damsel, Interpreters House.
I enjoy Rachael's elision of the wild and the domestic in much of her published work.
Deserted houses hold their abandonment, like aged spinsters waiting for a carer to breeze in with small chat, briskly raise a smile, then with swift wipe of flannel, steer her charge too early to bed. Sometimes they hang in rows like bats, swop gossip in the dark, beyond human hearing. Houses have anecdotes that need telling, ailments that need tending.
They are social creatures, despite the secrets they guard behind walls. Other times houses are hungry, rattle cutlery against double-glazing, venetian blinds. Beware the famished intent of a 1950’s semi, its penchant for coronation chicken, stair rods, prawn cocktail and blancmange. Terraced houses desire parquet, caviar and pâté, chomp at the bit for a slice of cinnamon toast, while those in grandiose crescents long for plain fare: rag-rugs, egg n chips, mushy peas, baked beans.
They possess no can openers but rely on residents to provide. I once met a dairy-intolerant vicarage with a taste for sardines. Most of all they crave the flesh of human to roll around the tongue and swallow whole. They like to hoard them, stuff them, digest slowly over long periods then regurgitate. Houses often compete to see how far they can spit them out.
© Rachael Clyne previously published in Grievous Angel
When You are Gone
I will find you in the stars’ cradle, your mouth-fur stilled. Your long slow fade into transparency. Your no longer tiptoe, tightrope walk, one paw in front of the other placed with careful attention, kicking each back foot, as if to shake off dew from the water you licked. Outside, the milk-bowl moon searches the grass for you. The hollow of your bed is silent, tries to gather your warm scent into its folds. Those pheromone molecules, each day, drift to join their maker, mingle with the ordinary, until vanished into a thicker air.
© Rachael Clyne previously published in Domestic Cherry
Saturday, 20 February 2016
Now that we aren't speaking, strands of you wend this way and that, behind my very eyes where I cannot pluck them out. Your lower lip, the knot inside your wrist, the char and gravel of your voice, they speak my name. In a dream, I am a girl sitting in a school bus amongst schoolmates, my legs bent this way and that so my feet, bare, are stuck right there in the middle of it all. But no one minds. They laugh and giggle, and I eat my blood orange, each segmented bit a tangle of your hair. The fruit fills me, the girls huddled round me and my naked feet. And, now that we're no longer speaking, I look for you in the linger of stain on my fingers.
© Lania Knight
Lania Knight's first book, Three Cubic Feet, was a 2012 Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Debut Fiction. Her stories, essays, and interviews are widely published. Her second book, Remnant, is due out in 2017. She is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. Read more about her at www.laniaknight.com.
Thursday, 18 February 2016
Robert has had two volumes of poetry published — Raining Quinces and Light Breaks —and is now working on a book on walking and the Camino.
The prose poem below was written when Robert was walking the Southwest Coastpath.* I particularly like the repeated rhetorical questions inviting us to think on our own purpose for walking, and the fact that each of the quatrains/paras is subtly different in tone.
To where does it lead, this walking? Past sea-lashed stacks and blocky towers of granite, shattered into cubes, to wind-bashed headlands drenched in spume and spray. Through lush-green tunnels of feathery tamarisk, humid as the tropics, wet-warm as rainforests, dripping with hart's tongue ferns and frothy with meadowsweet.
To where does it lead, this walking? I cling to crumbling cliff-top paths on the friable margin between rock and ocean. Here both land and sea engage in tumultuous conversation: an earthy, salty, airy discourse they've been playing out for eons and will do so for eternity. There is such wildness on this Atlantic edge: the surge and suck of sea water in coves, crash and roar of waves on rock, blown spindrift and beached debris of mussels, crabs' legs, beer cans, plastic.
To where does it lead, this walking? This is the cormorant's path, the gannet's way, the corridor of peregrine and raven, domain of chough and oystercatcher. Here are dunes as high as hills, soft with sand and spiky with marram grass. Here are fulmars, wings stiff as iron, flung by the wind then shearing through it, riding the updrafts just feet from my face.
To where does it lead, this walking? To a megalith, finger of slate, riddle of rock, pointing skyward. To the bright eye of pimpernel, scarlet as flame. To a focused hawk, hanging on the wind: still point of frozen fire. These are my lodestars and runic markers, my questions and answers, my longing and release wrapped up in one.
© Robert Wilkinson
* for which my sister has written the recent official guides.
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
I love the contrasts in these two prose poems – the heartbreaking tenderness, then the wryness.
'October will be what it will,' you said. Trees turning red and gold, dead leaves piled on the grass, cold winds – the dark come early. 'I don’t mind rain.' Later, asleep before the crackling fire, nightcapped with pain, you seem little more than a whisper, each vein mapped from your heart to mine. A stain of blood moving, cumulonimbus beneath your eyes and, in the tender crook of an arm, a slender pulse. So thin the very bones of you inhabit skin like brass rubbings. One frail, white hand, quill fingers spanned across your chest, exquisite as frost.
The 7.25 to Leeds
The bus-stop 7.25 – two women, two young men, three suits, one shopping bag, four cigarettes, a headscarf, one shaved head, a hat.
The bus-stop 7.30 – a tattooed girl, panting, out of breath. 'I thought I’d missed it.' Shaved-Head lights another fag, breathes smoke and curses. 'Fookin bussis always fookin late.' A nervous, shiny soft shoe shuffle from the suits. Headscarf, pussyfooting round her disapproval with a huff, lips pursed, tight as a cat’s arse.
The bus-stop 7.39 - lickspittle breeze with sleet on its tongue, sky like wet concrete, a mile of tarmac and car after car after car after car.
The bus-stop 7.42 – queue re-united, annoyed-r-us. Early morning indifference, normally so well-rehearsed, shelved like a Victorian spinster. Shaved-Head offers Tattooed-Girl his Sun to keep her dry, Suits, Hat and Headscarf discuss the weather, tardy buses, local politicians with agendas. Cigarettes are proffered, offered, shared along with smiles and 'thank you very much, have one of mine.' Sleet desiccates on withering gusts to specks of snow. Feet stamp, lips turn blue, perms frizz, cheeks pinch.
The bus-stop 7.45 – two buses.
(First published in Obsessed with Pipework)
© Lesley Quayle
Monday, 15 February 2016
So I notice the number of blog visitors has reduced in this prose-poem month. Even my Russian would-be spammers have gone a bit quiet.
Is it the form I've chosen, or the lack of variety, or – get down, ego, get DOWN! – the absence of my own writing or input?
I have been thinking about the direction of this blog, and the way it lurches through a variety of topics. Is this 'a good thing', or should I be more focused?
I know people seem to like the fact that I'm willing to share personal stuff about life, love, death. You'll have noticed, if you're a 'regular', that I have periods when what I post is introspective psychospiritual examination, often quite personal, but I like to think with broader application to the way we 'do' both our living and our relationships.
Then there are the posts about place and the spirit of place, deep ecology, the idea of reciprocal relationship with the other-than-human, and natural history – birds, tree lore, plants.
Often it's to do with 'the bardic arts' of myth, story and poem.
Frequently I write about a rural lifestyle, and growing things (this incorporates sustainable living with minimal suffering to others; a big concern of mine).
Occasionally, it's political, environmental, or philosophical.
Sometimes it's about pilgrimage, in one way or another – this journey of our life, undertaken as consciously as possible.
A few times a year I write about a course or retreat I'm leading or have just led, or share with you excitement about a new publication of mine.
Then on occasion I write the '100-words-from-here' thing – it's a way of holding the thread, and making sure that I do write something on a day when I otherwise might not (and therefore an example for you writers! – Write anything; write something.)
Recently, in between writing about breaking my arm and my time in Brittany, I seem to have written more 'ragbag' blogposts, where I cover many subjects; usually this is when my creative energy is deeply absorbed into another project. Surprisingly to me, these are often the most popular of my posts.
So, I'd love to know if you can be bothered to tell me: what do YOU like on the blog? What would you like to see more of?
And now for a small prose poem from me; back tomorrow to another of the imaginative contributions that are still coming in.
Like many of my poems and prose poems, this is A Version: a piece that's already in print, as a poem, but that I'm still chewing at. It's a section from a long poem with mythic undertones called 'Entering the Wood', in Bardo, which I think came out in 2011.
February is coppicing, spring-cleaning the wood, remembering line, vaulting, architecture, thinning hazel scrub to let in summer when it comes
the pattern of our saws, their dissonant harmonies – weak sun on our backs, thin feather of smoke, and the showers of rufous catkins around our feet
the mallet’s knock, its echo
on the road the erratic pulse of traffic
we think of tidying our lives
© Roselle Angwin
Saturday, 13 February 2016
A Story About Teeth
The schoolboy gladly found himself off school. Yet soon he heard his mother’s voice explain exactly what would happen to his teeth. His teeth were far too many, cramped inside the cavern of his mouth and, if he wanted a winning smile, then some of them needed to go; to be pulled; to make space so the rest could grow in line.
They stood in line at the surgery, the schoolboy sucking his thumb, his mother thumbing glossy magazines and, when the dentist’s prep nurse came, she called the schoolboy’s name and pulled him fast across the polished floor. He felt like he was flying in a dream.
Inside the sterile room, the dentist spoke behind his mask and scrubs, said “Bite down on the little rubber block; there’s medicine inside a hidden phial. Slip off to sleep and dream of something nice…”
no sooner said, the little black block crunched…
and the whole crowd was cheering wildly as the schoolboy flew towards the goal, the ball at his feet as big as the sun; the glory that awaited him brighter. But as the hulking goalie flew his line, the schoolboy couldn’t see a ball to kick and, taking the goalkeeper’s hand in his mouth, tore into his thumb with teeth the size of sabres…
Inside the car, his mother’s face was ripe with shame. Inside the surgery, the dentist’s prep nurse pinned the sodden bandage. Inside the schoolboy’s mouth, the first taste of a stranger’s mingled blood.
© Andy Brown 2016
Andy is Professor of Creative Writing & English at the University of Exeter. His most recent collections are Exurbia (Worple Press) and Watersong (Shearman). He recently co-edited the major anthology, A Body of Work: Poetry & Medical Writing (Bloomsbury). His first novel is Apples & Prayers (Dean Street).
Thursday, 11 February 2016
(Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern, 2015)
At the Bal Bullier figures tango with abstraction, shape and colour move in time as well as space: the spinning depth, the opening in form and light that Sonia Delaunay captures. It feels like yesterday, her work as compelling as all those years ago. Simultané ('simultaneous') was a word she loved. Nineteen eighty-three? or eighty-four was it? a survey of Post-Impressionism? Mostly I remember the three of us, you and me and the woman you were with now. I wore a red tee-shirt to hide the blood seeping from my heart. Remember our dance around one another, around the paintings, among the colours, the blood red, the jealous green, the wide blue skies of our comparative youth? Colour is the skin of the world, she said. Swirling colours and our swirling three-step, towards and away and away. We three were a luridly coloured eternal triangle with wavering edges and sharp points, but we talked only in twos. With you the happiness of looking at painted light, an exhilaration we’d long shared and could still share, but would not be sharing ever again. With her the outcry we shared at once: why was Sonia less famous than her husband? why? Light and colour, she said, are confounded. And when her multi-colours coalesced in concentric circles did the repeated colour wheels, Catherine wheels, swirl and spark into a suggestion of violence? Target practice? My red tee-shirt hid the blood after I cornered her in the Ladies and stuck her with my sharp point. Did I even notice the fragility of her lines, which I now find as startling as the force of her shapes and colours? Le Serpent noir is a late work and today for Sonia I’m wearing not red but black. Long life, long love slips around me like a silk scarf. The black snake dances to the music of time.
© Jean Morris
Jean Morris is an editor and translator who recently found herself, lateish in life, translating poetry and then one day writing her own, often in response to visual art. She sometimes contributes to the group poetry blog Via Negativa http://www.vianegativa.us/author/jean-morris/ (this prose poem is one of those contributions)
Tuesday, 9 February 2016
Betina is a scientist and a mother, among other roles, and these prose poems were written, with others, as observations of daily life over a few weeks.
Time for bed I repeat, but you insist. I want to make the Russian flag you say, and I immediately think of plane crashes and try to convince you to do otherwise. No, the Russian you say and then we start working in the sleeping kitchen collecting pearls. Red, blue and white. We finish the Russian flag and I carefully place it on the shelf in memory of the Russians that vanished in the sky of Sinai.
Then we sit in darkness at the kitchen table. You still refuse to go to bed and I listen to the sound of your persistent playing with a finger skateboard. I wake up as my head drops and notice your sleeping silhouette wrapped in my Balinese sarong covering you in protective blue salamanders. I dip in and out of sleep, remember the tears in your eyes as I left this morning, your sadness as I found you in the gym behind the door, the bruises on your cheek from ice-skating, and your pride turning up at the garden gate walking home on your own for the first time.
Drowsy I get up and walk you to your bed. In the living room, your LEGO has invaded the dinner table. Amputated figures spread all over waiting for someone to heal them. You wouldn’t let go of them tonight, wouldn’t talk to me, kept me at distance building fire dragons and swamp monsters. Well, you did sing too in the most lovable homemade English. Finally, you are in your sleep snoring gently, probably a bit amputated too from resisting the quakes of the day.
They are five. Five noisy youngsters and they sit in front of us. You are pale. Your eyes frightened. I take your hand, suggest you listen to music. Alert, you refuse. Two of them start to argue, loudly. I consider. Consider reminding them about the kids in the bus, but I am vigilant too and try to keep calm while you squeeze my hand. At last, they leave the bus and the colour rushes back into your beautiful face. I turn my face, merge with the darkness, and think of all the orphans crossing Europe with no hands to squeeze.
Back home you make dinner for us, so dedicated and proud. Even play the guitar, sing while I clean the kitchen and shame on me for not enjoying that moment. All I do is ask you to get ready for bed. At bedtime you ask me about who you are, wonder about not being you, but being someone else not knowing of you. You are so beautiful, almost ten. Sometimes a tiny kid almost a toddler then suddenly preteen trying my mascara and high-heeled boots. Now, I stare at portraits of you from school and see you differently, while you bloom in your dreams.
The snowstorm has laid down the hedge. It’s eight o’clock Sunday morning, still snowing, and you want to go sledging. We put on winter jackets on top of pyjamas and start by bringing the privet back to life. Hard work for strong girls and then we go for a sledge walk in heavy sleet. Snowflakes quickly cover your hair, you laugh towards the white sky, thrilled. Back, it feels good to have a place called home, to get breakfast, tea, and warm cheeks again.
© Betina Kerstin Lundholt
Sunday, 7 February 2016
Here's a new one, from Jeff:
'The boat – barge, rather, narrow boat, ninety feet of steel, a huge cigar of steel – slides silently ahead, the bow splitting the water, slipping sibilantly through the water, breaking up the planes of water, tumbling the plates into waves and rocking splashings, fracturing the sun's reflections, creating dishes, plackets, pockets, hollows of water, each bearing its own reflection so that now a million sunlights dance across the surface in our wake. In front, ahead, the great planes of water wait their turn. Behind, the motor thuds, the heavy reassuring diesel thuds, intrusive; and smoke, man-made, drifts back away behind. Here in the bow one sees only the soft thrusting forward, hears only the soft sweet sound of water separating, slipping past the steel: kind, supportive, untormented.'
Thursday, 4 February 2016
Always the flight
The song of freedom hangs in the air above skylarks and bracken. Migrating curlews pass through, land briefly to overwinter from moorland to coast and back again. Always movement of quicksilvered sand and changing seasons
shapeshifting from black to white, red to brown to yellow to August, September to April. Always the movement of gulls swift acting, nose diving. Always the pattern of possibilities, changing shape and skin. Autumn to winter, spring to summer and back again.
Shrill call of terns defending their territory. Flying of red kites over fell and estuary. Puncturing of clouds, thundering tides, movement of birds and humans. Red to white, black and gold, silver and red, tawny skinned, wrinkled, smooth. Flesh of old. Flesh of young. Bright and dying.
Juniper, Crag Head
I'd like to sleep beneath this ancient Juniper, twisted as it is, bent low by prevailing Westerlies, blown in from the Irish Sea. Bivvy for one night only, or perhaps more, if I were brave enough. If I were underneath this old tree's sanctuary, this evergreen that cattle have trodden round, keeper of flame, this incense tree, maker of gin and dreams and love that has seen many winters.
I'd like to sleep underneath its twisted protectiveness, wake to see morning gold or fog ridden. Wake to look across and see the Old Man of Coniston. To wake, after sleep beneath this ancient Juniper, twisted as it is, breathe in its incense.
Light, Grisedale Forest
Today I became snagged on light. Not only light, the way it reflects on water and leaves – these leaves, I mean, on the bridge, snagged on light, like me, like stone, cold, unsobered, alive with spitting, splitting, alight with leaves, wet leaves, the one in the centre of this bridge here, leaves alive, bristled and veined, coppered and alight, on a stone cold sobering bridge, somewhere, maybe in a forest, today maybe, maybe Grisedale.
Samhain: A Door
Oak, Eycott, Hag and Hecate, Aiket and Druid, Reflector of Names, Old Golden Bough, Apple of Samhain, Old Woman of Knowledge, Oak, Eycott, Aiket, Dryad, Oak Apple
Blossom of Youth, Keeper of Secrets, Aiket Gate, Eycott Hill, Bough of the Golden, Oak Apple Dew, Dryad and Aiket, Eycott, Druid, Holder of Secrets, Golden Bough, Old Woman, Oak Appled Blossom
Hidden in Folds of Fellsides and Coppice, Oak Apple, Golden Cheeked, Maiden of Apple, Bringer of Knowledge, Oak Appled Spinner, Hidden in Spider, Insect Weaver, Woven of Mysteries, Eycott, Aiket, Oak and Druid, Dwr
Weint Watter, Weaver of Lakes, Winder of Sapping, Makar of Steel, Dwr and Duir, Drear and Dryad, Aiketgate, Eycott, Oak Leaved Watter, Oak Twigs for Fuel, Acorns for Fodder, Split Open the Acorn, Door to the Future.
© Geraldine Green
from Passing Through – working title of new collection, unpublished
Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Who is it who vanishes into the bigger darkness, over the banks, the water, the gorse-clad wooded hillside with its arteries of leaching streams? Who fingers stone, bone, moss; who noses towards air, the rush of wind? Who is it set ticking by some rhythm in the blood, tidal wave, drift that will not be stilled, who insists on the narrow twisting path towards the thinning light?
Roselle Angwin, 2005
Through February, I'm inviting a few contributions for this blog from anyone who writes, or would like to write, prose poems, whether you're a beginner or a more experienced writer. Please contribute – anything from 100-600 words. (And please note, too, that I may not be able to accept every piece for reasons of space.)
To kick you off, below is an edited excerpt from my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers (the prose poem section contains a beautiful prose poem from Andy Brown).
Below that again, I'll post some short pieces of mine, and details of how to send your own prose poems to me. I look forward to reading your work.
Where Boundaries Blur
the prose poem
‘...the most that we can say about prose poetry is that it exhibits certain characteristics...’
The prose poem is better known on the Continent and in the States than it is in the UK.
Its original proponents were the French avant-garde from the mid C19th and the early C20th; it is intimately connected with both the Symbolists and the later Surrealists (like Surrealism, the prose poem draws directly on the unconscious), and Baudelaire, cornerstone of the French Symbolist movement, is generally seen as its originator, though a writer called Aloysius Bertrand was experimenting with this form in the early 1800s.
Baudelaire wrote of his ideas of poetic prose – a form which needed to be both fluid and muscled, without rhyme or rhythm, yet still musical; a form which was suited to the lyrical flights of the soul as well as to dream states and reverie; and one which also took account of the impulses of the conscience. In the rewriting of some of his verses as prose poems, he was aware that he was working with a new and as yet unformulated mode of expression; and today, 150 years on, this still holds true, in the sense that there are few formal ‘rules’.
I think of the prose-poetry spectrum as being a continuum, through from prose to prose poems to free verse to metrical form. In anatomical terms, I liken it to a muscle: if prose is that muscle relaxed, metrical poetry represents that muscle contracted. The prose poem sits between these two, but still has its own aesthetic.
It should be said at this point that in many ways the prose poem can only be arbitrarily defined – it is a form that is still evolving, and there are no absolute ‘rules’. What I’ve written here is my own opinion informed by conversations and readings of prose poems, and of the theory behind them as written by Those Who Know What They’re Talking About.
The prose poem has been described by Charles Simic as a literary hybrid, including as it does many faces of prose, from anecdote to allegory to fairy story to journal to reflection to dream imagery to écriture and pensée, all bound together using some of the devices of poetry.
That’s one description. This is how Peter Johnson, editor of an international prose poem journal, puts it: ‘Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.’
What all this means in practice is that the prose poem will share some of the attributes of general poetic expression: imagery; metaphor; heightened intensity of content, thought, and feeling; compactness; patterning and repetition; as well as showing sound and syntactical elements common to poetry.
In some ways it is easier to talk about what the prose poem isn’t, or doesn’t do. What it won’t include are traditional rhyme schemes and typical poetry layout with line breaks; generally it will appear on the page in a continuous sequence of sentences, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
The diction will be poetic, but less conventionally so than in poetry. It will tend more towards the vernacular: conversational and colloquial. It may include echoing sounds and a rhythm that is tighter than ordinary prose, but any such ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’ will not be formal or overdone.
Although there is no reason why it shouldn’t include ‘embedded’ lines of poetry (and in fact my long prose poem The Present Where, co-authored with Rupert Loydell, does), it generally doesn’t.
There is an inwardness about the prose poem that allows a personal content, and that also often conveys the kind of imaginative material that gives it a dream-like flavour. Often there is a strong visual element.
Although it may have a narrative content, it is not simply a linear short story, even though it may have aspects similar in kind to the mini-saga, which became popular in Britain in the late ’90s. It sometimes has an aphoristic feel to it, though it is not a moral parable or fable.
It may be a vignette involving both inner and outer detail, and its informal structure often gives it a compelling immediacy.
When I think of the prose poem I see it visually. It’s layered. For the sake of ease, I want to suggest that – and this is a generalisation – we could describe conventional prose and traditional poetry as proceeding along a horizontal, unfolding in time. For me, the prose poem is more a multi-levelled chunk, in ‘section’, rather as an archaeologist might cut through successive layers of soils to reveal differences in the strata. I think a prose poem can record different facets, or levels, of human experience.
A good prose poem will have an element of spontaneity about it; something of the sense of ‘stream of consciousness’; and to that extent it will appear less ‘worked’ than a poem ‘proper’ (though that is not to say that it hasn’t been). ‘It ... seem[s] to me that there is a shorter distance from the unconscious to the prose poem, than from the unconscious to most poems in verse,’ says Michael Benedikt.
Nonetheless, the writing will have a kind of tautness about it. This springs partly from its simultaneous occupation of two (at least) thresholds: the intimate, imaginative and associative ‘interiority’ of poetry, and the more narrative territory of conventional prose. At the same time, the prose poem is a fluid form that encourages originality and improvisation; reads as loose and organic.
© Roselle Angwin 2005/2016, excerpted from Writing the Bright Moment
Below is a sequence of tiny prose poems of my own, from my first collection Looking For Icarus (bluechrome 2005; reprinted by IDP 2015) The one heading this page is from the same sequence.
You will see that I ‘hang’ them on a place, but there is no need to do this, and these are not supposed to be ‘models’, but rather illustrations.
Questions of fire, earth, air, water. Questions of courage, of risk and safety. Questions of what must remain unspoken and what trouble the unsaid might cause. Questions of gaps and pauses and silence. Questions of music and dancing and song. Come closer, go away. On this June morning the landscape blazes with barley and birdsong. On this June morning the river’s broad body’s an invitation, an injunction. You’re holding hands. One of you jumps, the other does not. Who is it who keeps falling, falling in the bright air?
Cliff-path’s thick with summer - ragged robin, woodruff, vetch. Tight sharp blackberries, pink-fleshed. Stream’s shedding song, unthinking. Poised between day and night here where tide floods the creek and sunslicked sea rolls like a cat at our feet. Up to our eyes in it. If you ran a finger round the horizon’s lapis rim it would spill arpeggios into your bloodstream.
Lily pollen, staining the white windowsill and my hands the colour of sunshine. Walking round the hayfield this morning; air smelling of autumn. Few swallows; blackberries too soggy and too sweet.
The questions we need to ask and the ones we don’t.
J’s face last night talking of his dead wife’s face.
Day rolls in the stubble. Traces of fox and pheasant in the margins. Deer spoor. The wild geese this morning are silent. St John’s Wort – the wild one – lifts starry yellow faces.
Morning’s tide recedes. Bird tracks and strewn black wrack jostle driftwood and limpets. I think of you here; your last day, years away from the wild Hebridean shoreline, its lacing of yellow periwinkles like small fierce suns. Remember those days, I say to you. Remember. But still I can’t stop your falling, over and over, falling.
Some days I walk for hours.
The wisdom of flotsam. An ache like fog. You navigate by sound, listening for drowned things. This lover, that place, those words peel away like a bow-wave behind you. Only the present counts. No angels; but listen, the ocean’s singing.
In another place which we’ve not visited there’s a coffee cup and saucer in sunflower yellow. The cup is upturned and our separate moments have temporarily fused. The tides of us flow together. We walk barefoot through the lemon grove, lick honey from each other’s fingers, celebrate the sunshine, the moment. All there is.
All pieces © Roselle Angwin, 2005/2016
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- notes, and a February prose poem from me
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