Guest Post: Molly Arden
Am I the last person on the east coast to discover Brazilian Girls, the local band that is neither Brazilian nor girls and that just released its first cd?
I was sitting in Espresso Café on Greene Street last week, when I found myself chair-dancing to the ambient music while hunched over my laptop. “Wow, great music,” I said, to no one in particular. Luckily, the fellow at the next table, an expat from Japan, enlightened me in a discrete manner so I didn’t have to feel as if I’ve been living under a rock these past few months.
Armed with the details, I stopped in at one of the music shops on Bleecker, and picked up the eponymous cd on my way home. If it had been vinyl, I would have already worn down the grooves.
Silence those protests! A mention of Brazilian Girls is legit in this space because the lyrics of “Me Gustas Cuando Callas” are by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda…
With that out of the way, my recommendation is that you invite a few friends over to your loft, have your buddy Dave mix up his famous Montenegro Manhattans, (for two: 5 oz. Knob Creek Bourbon, 2 oz. Amaro Montenegro, 3 dashes Angostura bitters. Add ice, shake, pour, garnish with brandied cherries) put Brazilian Girls on the Bose and watch the atmosphere shift to high gear by the third track.
There might be something about writing in this format that has lately had me thinking about that weird hybrid, the prose poem. It’s likely too that I’m still basking in the afterglow of the Russell Edson reading and talk I attended at the New School a couple of weeks ago. Edson read from his new book The Rooster’s Wife and when he was asked to define the prose poem, he answered simply: “It’s something that isn’t something else. . .(beat) and it’s short.”
As I see it, this is a near perfect definition. But there’s more: the prose poem will look like a block of text on the page, like what you’re reading now. However, the reader is parachute-dropped into a strange world, with its own logic, where anything can happen. In fiction, a good deal of time is spent on set up; the writer
establishes characters and scenes, background and atmosphere. A prose poem won’t waste time on such matters. The reader accepts the often bizarre circumstances presented by the poem and goes along for the ride. Here’s a sample from Edson’s 2001 volume “The Tormented Mirror”:
The Rule and Its Exception
The big toe located on each of the two feet of man (Homo sapiens,
“man, the wise”) has as its main functions the growing of a toenail
and the production of pain when stepped on. . .
Death is the exception to this rule.
Goodbye, my friends . . .
— Russell Edson
Edson’s poems are often quite funny, populated by animals exhibiting
absurd human behavior, or married couples acting out surreal dramas.
Edson eschews the confessional in his own work, and dislikes it in
others. “There are two kinds of confessional poets,” says Edson. There
are those who think they are poets because they admit to a certain
kind of experience and “those who say, ‘I look at this beautiful
flower, and I have feelings.'” One won’t find any of this
sentimentality in Edson’s work.
Some of the most accomplished practitioners of the form were gathered
into one volume Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present.
There you’ll find such masters of the form as Gertrude Stein, James
Tate, and Charles Simic. One of my favorites is James Tate’s “The List
of Famous Hats,” which includes a priceless description of Napoleon
Bonaparte’s “private bathing cap”: “he had to Vaseline his skull like
crazy to even get the thing on.” MA
* * *
P.S. For those of you who may wonder why David Lehman’s April 18
reading (mentioned here a couple of weeks ago) at McNally Robinson
bookstore on Prince Street is not listed on its website or in the
store’s written material, not to worry: the reading is on for 7:00.
Celebrate National Poetry Month!
See you there. (Molly Arden)
Photo credit: Jacques-Andre Boiffard, The Big Toe (1929) via