Monday Jul 22

JulieBrooksBarbour 2015 It’s 2019! Let’s celebrate short forms!

And why shouldn’t we? Short forms like poetry, prose poetry, flash fiction, and flash nonfiction give us the immediacy of a moment or an experience within a small space. Consider the economy of language when reading these forms: nothing is extraneous. And yet, the world within is so large it can hold all of us.

It’s important to me that I read widely in these forms. I discover poetry within flash fiction and flash nonfiction continuously. Take for instance “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish which went viral after its publication, and was included in The Best SmallFictions 2018 and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018. Written as a list, Fish’s story builds momentum and uses spacing to give us a chance to consider particular components of the list while moving toward its powerful ending. By reading in this particular form, we have an expectation that the story will be composed of short sentences, which indeed it is, until we arrive at “Humans in the wild, gathered and feeling good, previously an exhilaration, now: a target,” which alters our expectation a bit, given this is a longer sentence than those previously used, but is essential in changing the rhythm of the story as well as the list itself.

This story is less than 200 words long. Fish is not only economical with language, but uses rhythm and momentum. I find the story similar to poetry in its construction while it builds a world that we recognize, as stories do.

A poem has to build something, too: an experience with emotions and imagery we recognize. It also has to build momentum toward the final line with music and rhythm. I love that Fish’s story reminds me that poetry is also capable of these things, and to use them to build work that has an impact. This is why I enjoy reading widely: I’m reminded of what’s important not only in crafting work in flash fiction and nonfiction, but also in the genre I call home.

I hope that if you are a devoted reader of a particular genre, you’ll discover something new about writing and possibility outside of your genre. Here’s to 2019!

We begin our January Poetry Column with two poems from Anne Hunley Trisler. I am absolutely taken with the movement of Trisler’s poems. Take for instance her poem “Slow Pine” which situates us with a speaker who moves through a world imbued with memory. As we move through visual imagery of a trellis and plants in “smooth / teal bowls”, we simultaneously move through memory, and through memory to the heart, ending with an arresting image of the moon. These poems take us from difficult moments into those of song and stillness. I’ve returned to them over and over, stunned by the ways Trisler evokes emotion in the worlds she creates.

The ghost in Denton Loving’s poem “doesn’t haunt shadowy corridors,” never “switches off appliances” or “creaks floorboards at night.” This ghost doesn’t do any of the things we expect embodied ghosts to do. In fact, the only places this specter haunts are places the speaker visits, like “hotel bars and dance halls,” haunting the speaker’s life with the past. The ghost enters the speaker’s every moment, pulling on “innermost fears.” “My Ghost” contains a wish to get rid of this ghost and that it will become something easier to “usher to the other side.” We know this ghost as well as it knows us. I admire the wit and honesty of Loving’s lines that remind us this kind of haunting is not one we see on movies and television, but one that impacts our everyday lives.

Osel Jessica Plante Associate Poetry Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us beautiful work from two poets this month:

What stands out about Jeri Theriault’s poems are the narrators who are speaking each poem into being. Whether the poem is spoken from an “I” of a “we,” there is the sense of a complete world of which we are only seeing a glimpse. Elisions and staccato short lines give her poem “the girl with [al]most useless hands” a haunting feel as we hear the voice of a bride says, “I learned / what might be done // with smile & / nod…” In “ornamental” an unidentified “we”: “we take [always] // beauty where we can,” may be a couple, the universal we, the ornamental trees themselves, or all of these voices at once, together. Each of her poems works around an absence, and this gives her work a haunting quality.

Rita Quillen’s poems have a sensual, playful edge and there is generosity in how she experiences and shares her world through language. In the poem “Feeding the Flow,” we are invited into a near-religious experience as “The hidden bees appear / out of nowhere…a whistle through the field of wild mustard / calling them to April vespers.” There are keen moments of speculation in her writing about her father’s strange taste in food, “eating memories, perhaps, / from another age, another place,” she says. In her writing, “…the wild always comes through.”

We also have some wonderful poems courtesy of Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb:

DavonLoeb Andrew Laurence Graney’s poems speak to when we struggle with the ordinary, with dating, with life after graduate school, with the failure of our heroes—but these poems, through some inaccessibility, shows us a glimpse of our true selves; and I believe Andrew is showing his true self as he grapples, white-knuckled, through everyday life. He writes, “than a headache when I can hardly keep my head up/ past noon? I eat lunch, and nay romance/ might as well exist in some unreadable/ California.”

We end our column this month with a poem from Susan Rich. “Song of the Small Boats” takes us to the memories of a family living “frugally,” the speaker states, while also remembering after-holiday sales, “werewolf women grasping polyester / robes and hand towels.” Rich recreates not only the chaotic atmosphere of these department store sales, but also the return home: “the kitchen table parade,” the haul which becomes “small boats / of wonder.” The speaker then takes us back to the reality of paying bills, the specifics of a life of frugality, but never forgets those small boats, leaving us with their promise of escape. Despite the economic reality of this poem, there is hope, a place of “temporary landing,” and I deeply admire Susan Rich for taking us to both places, and recreating a moment that is a reality for many Americans.  

Thank you for visiting with these poets. We wish you a happy 2019!