Tag Archives: Prose Poetry

A Fix of Coffee and Truth

I’m Antisocial – Coffee Never Lies

By Mallory Smart

96 pages

2016

Bottlecap Press

This (to borrow from Jerry Seinfeld) is Poets in Hyper Urban Settings Getting Coffee.

Okay, more specifically, it’s I’m Antisocial – Coffee Never Lies, in which Mallory Smart takes the well-worn cliché of poet as ‘artist-in-residence of the coffee house’ and plunks it down in a contemporary context where the artist remains fairly anonymous; sometimes by choice, sometimes not so much.

The context is a modern urban café complete with free wifi and a cast of biz suits & hipsters. The point is a bit of drama on the role of the artist in a post-Pandora’s Box society in which everyone is a visionary, but where those visions are mainly myopic.

It’s also a place for Muses and Musers to zone out together in the kind of lounge chair set-up where with “a book, or/headphones, you can usually/avoid the awkwardness/of others.”

The brief narrative that underpins the book’s theme of disconnection is a scene Smart repeats from a number of angles: an anonymous businessman picks up her copy of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun and begins to lecture her on it, despite his obvious lack of familiarity with the novel. This awkward moment illustrates the casual disdain of art and lack of respect for the artist (and maybe for expertise of any kind) in a world that artists are still trying to express some meaning into.

If the setting of the collection is monochromatic, the verse that spins inside is kinetic – a caffeinated mix of short syllables and prose-based bursts in a variety of thick fonts, along with a carnival of cartoon imagery (added by illustrator Joey Grossman) in the margins that accents the playfulness of the text and frustration of the situation. It’s a situation in-line with Smart’s lamentation of a life in which “every morning we would make neither love,/nor war, but coffee./neither would change things/but I still need a fix”.

Which is what those who crave a good dose of lyrical cynicism and brutal truth still search for in poetry. And who can find a nice quick fix here.

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Ringing Out the Bones

Ring out the bones of the old year with the medullan melodies of Rob Plath’s Skeleton Sutras (40 pages, Epic Rites Press, 2016), a wickedly entertaining series of grim anti-fairy tales/parables. One of the sharpest collections you should have read all year, Skeleton Sutras pulls beauty from ruin in blunt, finely carved prose poems in which Plath chisels language (excuse us) right to the bone.

Start the New off with the Old.

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A Good Read of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

By Diane Williams

131 pages

McSweeney’s 

2016
‘Flash fiction’ can mean anything from a few clipped sentences to a few short paragraphs to a few brief pages, with narrative as the clearest literary line separating it from prose poetry. Flash fiction means there is still a story, no matter how short and sharp the arc may be. It could be the span of a life jammed into the tight jar of a paragraph, or the climax sliced from a larger backstory and spread out on its own, or a sprinkling of scenes. But the reader will still get some open and closure, implied or otherwise. The author will still work with imagery and rhetoric to suggest actions, ideas and consequences beyond the air-tight strictures.

The flash fiction of Diane Williams in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine showcases all of these traits. But her stories somehow manage the weightier task of also being character-driven.

Many of these characters remain nameless, as if caught in tableau. Sometimes, Williams will peg an identity to them, but more for tone and colour than symbolism. Almost all are at a sudden point where they face a marked change in their lives. Some adapt as quickly as the word-count ends while others seem set to struggle far beyond the time it will take for the page to yellow. The reader may not know much about them, but will witness the import of their key moments and situations. This is flash fiction as the drama of epiphany.

“Specialist” presents the ultra-condensed ‘life-flashing-before-the-eyes’ of a very self-wrapped consciousness condemned to a fresh hell of external-awareness. “The Poet” evokes a surreal tragedy in two packed paragraphs. “Perform Small Tasks” is a mini-masterpiece of obfuscation, where drama is hidden behind a mind fussed with daily minutiae. “Girl With a Pencil” is a creation myth sketched with short strokes as the main character’s dark self-prophecy is shaped by a stark maternal presence.

Behind numerous facades (of forced passion, rigid consciousness, contrived fashion) everything is, of course, not fine. The thread that joins the stories is, in fact, threads coming unwound: relationships ending (or never quite weaving together), lives snipped short with unanswered questions and unresolved issues. The false declaration of the title, that sounds like a petulant child giving in with reluctant pout, melds with the overall, overwhelming effect of the relentless narratives. The substantial amount of character and drama that Williams packs into the book can overwhelm the reader, as the number of small tragedies add up to the emotional weight of an epic.

But, while brief, remain profound snapshots of life where things can change in a flash.

Snap to it.

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A Flash of Unbroken: A Journal of Prose

Unbroken: A Journal of Prose (Jan/Feb 2016 issue)

So simple and straightforward, but still substantial, Unbroken connects a rich read in brief stories, flips of imagery, and quick hits of literary vandalism. A mix of pictures and prose laid along short, sharp arcs of narrative and verse, with the concrete poured in-between. The collection seems to sort out its own internal rhythm: word into word; sentence through sentence; paragraph and paragraph. Or, you could just scatter them all over, and pick up each one on its own.

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