Monday, February 04, 2008

Winter Hands by Annie Clarkson

If there's any movement in poetry more stealthy than any, it's the almost invisible rise in England of the prose poem. Poets have discovered the prose poem in increasing numbers, but I can't think of anyone yet commenting on this. I went to see Simon Armitage reading from his Gawain poem, and even he ended the evening with some prose poems.

Annie Clarkson is a new, young, addition to this growing band of "prose-poets," with her first chapbook collection, Winter Hands (Shadowtrain Books, Unlike her fellow prose poet, Luke Kennard, there isn't any stand-up comedy surrealism here. Instead, what we have is a dark, wintry landscape of fractured relationships, fairgrounds and factory yards and people living on the edge.

These lyrical portraits of people and places, and people in places, are not totally grim, but there is a dourness about these poems that is lifted into poetry by the exactness, and aptness, of the language. When she describes the dirty sexuality of The Fairground Man: "dark hair curling round your ears, smell of generators and dirty denim, you open the door to my skin the ride of my life the holding on..." the reader is taken spinning into the romance of the fairground ride, and the dangerous glamour of it.

In places, there is a sense of the form only just holding onto the words, which at any moment could go spinning into the atmosphere. At other times, there's a grim realism pinning it down to earth. The prose poem here is not a vehicle for reverie and over-poetic language (which compensates for the lack of "poetic devices" in some prose poems.) Nevertheless, there is nothing else to call these pieces except poems. They vibrate like poems do, they leave resonances like poems do, they leave mysteries, they make you want to go back and reread them.

Annie Clarkson is a brave poet; and these are brave poems.


Jane Holland said...

I've got a couple of prose poems - at the moment! - in my third collection, due from Salt this autumn. I've never 'done' prose poems before, so that's a bit of a departure for me.

One of them was clearly a prose poem from the outset. The other became one when it failed as a 'straight' - for want of a better word - poem. This made me wonder how many poems actually start life as prose poems and how many get there by, shall we say, 'accident'?

Feels like cheating to me, falling back on prose when a poem isn't working. Yet since all art is artifice, I suppose it can't possibly matter, as long as the end result works as poetry. Or can it?

Steven Waling said...

The three prose poems I've written - one definitely started as a "straight" poem and "failed" but then became something in prose - and the other two were always intended as prose - seem like a continuation of my poetry rather than a departure.

But it's interesting, isn't it, how there's more of it about in British poetry nowadays? It's been around for decades in US poetry, but it's not been much used by even the British avant-garde until recently (though there's Peter Riley's Excavations, for instance.)

Jane Holland said...

It makes me wonder whether it may become more common to see non-poetic prose in collections in the future.

Expository prose, for instance. Slipped in between poems. As Yeats did in Per Amica Silentia Lunae, I seem to recall. More like a complete book, a total method of writing, balancing poetry and prose.

Hard to see how it would work though, personally.

Gists & Piths said...


Interesting post: I'll have to check out Annie Clarkson's work. I have to admit I've noticed this shift towards prose poetry too (and I'm not immune either: 'real' poetry, whatever that might mean, has deserted me at the moment; the prose poem, meanwhile, is asserting itself aggressively, and I can't seem to write anything else - perhaps there's something in the water). There's a very good American ezine called Double Room - - which covers nothing but prose poems and flash fiction. Well worth checking out.

Simon Turner, G&P

Background Artist said...

Hi Steven, only experimenting, please forgive me any insults, this is just a rough arsed Neil Dawn..


I've got lots of poetic prose pieces i have read in practice and which go down as the real thing. Poems i suppose, though none are in my first collection, due out in POD later this year, or early next, or maybe later. When i have the money. I am luckly, having never submitted to the three main chaps, chris, neil and mick, am not a reject in my head and i have about 8 collections written, and all i write in now is one long poem, total extemporised practice and really, some very good work, but i just do never send out, and after 7 years, am not arsed, as i am just doing it, prose poem, poetic prose, i reckon keruoac reading on steve allen, as good as it gets, coz poems live first as verbal tapastries and scripts for us to twist our tongue round, challenge ourselves and go out once a week, a month, a life, but just do it, have the balls to not care who thinks what, to practice poetry in all three forms, page live and critical prose, and if you memorise a few to deliver at parties, guaranteed to stun live, we gotta be the best, coz from my angle, the uk is in need of mashing up and is being, by they who prove it, being human..and as i have always done prose poems before, i feel really superior to those who do not and know that's a bit harsh but am not arsed coz i'm deluded and excluded from talking to you in the holy place of duckies gulag, and am starting a campaig, for a laugh, as a departure for me.

Clearly, a prose poem from the outset, this blog comment is dressed as ? the other one who became the noughtie one, breaking the tribes silent code, don't get above oneself, her maj aint gonna like it, what about the very strong, brave things i said in the canteen about Milton and when it failed, turn to straight verse for inspiration, and wanting better words that make us wonder how many bores actually read state subsidised poetry?

The big fishes on youtube, mick schmidt, kinsella, all the biggies, are getting very few viewers, and this worries me, as the mnarket suggests, they are not exciting to watch, and sdo those who are, hooray harry, drop dead, start life as a citizen whose prose poems are singing the same stuff as Milton, and be a patriot, ask how many crap poets get paid coz they are inooffensive and massage egos, not me or you get there by, shall we say, the accident of our experimental pose wroughting Hope to life?

But enough, no more, tis not so sweet now as it was before, i said as Malvolio, who i played at 11 in the school play, Alpha form, Mr Bleaney's dorm, he was nice and now a ghost who i feel speaks cheating me, in prose when automatically leering at my poem, which has not been working since all art became shit coz i am as artifice, of desmond swords, desmond's words, Dd Ss, i only noticed yesterday, the symmetry of each phenome opened and enclosed by the upper and lower case Dd Ss, summat hidden and opened by instinct, the collision, mystic pool of our surprise, the possible matter is long and no end result can poetry be told to conjur, can it Orm's church, Dane-law, eric, Brehon, Ashberry and let the Lady be my sheppard, i shall whach punk bands at 60 saying, it woar wall fro different in my day, only fists and knoves, guns and bombs, torture and an accent singling uz owt wuz up for bagging as we wuz robbin' guvnor, in Drimnagh and Crumlin young people stick screwdrivers in Polish immigrants heads, and the island unites, the scangers do not win, so give it socks, Crumlin and Drimnagh, brave the wo/men who love and live by the royal canal, prosaic pose, poetry, as it goes, never a destination, just a process, practice it, go out, get good, become the best your potential allows and watch the others flounder after making it up, lucky..