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.