Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

“Because I Said So”: Review of Alan Ziegler at The New School Poetry Forum with David Lehman

[Previously published on The Best American Poetry blog.]

Unknown-1Since 1978, when Mark Strand was denied a Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his bookThe Monument on the grounds that the poems were not in verseprose poetry has fought a battle—which it has largely won—for legitimacy in the eyes and heart of the reading public. It has won in no small part because prose poetry blurs the boundaries between genres. On April 8 at The New School poetry forum, Alan Zeigler read to us from his new anthology, Short: An International Anthology of five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, the third major anthology of the short prose form. Ziegler has been one of our foremost supporters of the form, both as a writer of prose poetry as well as a professor at Columbia University, where he has long taught his renowned Short Prose Forms class.

As Ziegler commented to moderator David Lehman, there have been two previous “gold standards in this form”: Michael Benedikt’s 1976 The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, and Lehman’s own Great American Prose Poems: from Poe to the Present (2003)Benedikt’s volume “introduced many of us to the form in a way that was not available before.” Both of these volumes have been hugely influential in inspiring new writers of short prose. Ziegler in fact  “could not have put this together without sending the introduction and table of contents to David.”

As Lehman remarked, Short puts forth the perspective of an international collection, allowing the inclusion of many early writers in the form such as Baudelaire’s “Get Drunk” in Lehman’s translation: “On what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, your choice. But get drunk.” Ziegler read this to us as well as another amusing poem translated by Lehman, Henri Michaux’s “My Pastimes” which elucidates the speaker’s love of beating people up.

Another twentieth-century French practitioner was Max Jacob. Ziegler remarked he seemed to have “skipped modernism entirely and went straight to post-modernism,” and read to us John Ashbery’s translation of “The Beggar Woman of Naples.” In fact, many of these older pieces have a contemporary feel, as if written in modern diction and stride. Ziegler noted that one difference with these older pieces is that today there is a place for such work, whereas many of these pieces remained in notebooks until discovered later.


SHARE #8: Force


The lovely Margaret Malone and Kathleen Lane invited me to come as an artist to SHARE recently. Previously, I had attended their showcase and been quite overwhelmed by the amount of cool stuff in progress around the space. Mark Russell was nice enough to be my plus one, but when we got there, we discovered the happy accident that actually the regular SHARE is a participant-only space. For two hours, everyone in the room is creating. You get the prompt when you come in the door, which this time was FORCE, and you just go. Mark is a writer too after all, so we decided to collaborate.

Our process was that we started from the idea about force as a rule or change forcing you to do something. Mark began to write satirical airport rules so I started to think of a narrative that would play off of the airport setting, and then we juxtaposed the two pieces without looking at what each other were writing.

Italics for Mark’s piece, regular font for mine.

The night before I went home to the US, Matt and I got to the Budapest airport completely out of cash. It was a boxy white space with high ceilings and concrete pillars and looked Communist. It looked like it would have rules. We had enough cash to stay in a hostel when we got to town but had decided it would be more fun to stay up all night drinking, so now we had to sleep in the airport. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re not really getting along. Going out had been Matt’s idea but got no argument from me. If I held a plastic cup of red wine and coke in a dark cellar bar blasting the Pink Floyd, it was easier somehow to ignore the way his brown eyes never seemed to meet mine, the way he always seemed to be looking away from me.

On behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, welcome to the United States. Please remove any metallic objects, belts, electronic devices, toiletries, shoes or prosthetic limbs and place them in the eight ounce cup provided to your left. Please note that as part of the new American Culture Preservation Initiative, a fine of forty-eight dollars will be assessed on anyone discussing the Broadway production of Spiderman, sporting a tribal armband tattoo or reading a Harry Potter book if you are over the age of thirteen. I mean, really people.


Barcelona Circus Housecat Swings Around Big Top in Electric Star

Some years ago I went to a one-ring circus in Barcelona with tigers and bathing suit girls on giant beach balls. The night was a little balmy, and the lights had been compelling, how they shone out across the water. My husband and I were trying to have a good time. We had been arguing all day about children and whether I should stop wanting to have them, and also where to go next in this ancient city. “Let’s just wander,” I said, but he wouldn’t have it.  In my mind, I was weighing whether to leave him.

Along the edge of a manmade lake rimmed in palms, my husband took my hand in his dry, warm palm. In the parking lot, a tiger walked up to us to say hello, his leash only loosely held by his handler. The tightrope girl working the bar sold us Lillet spritzers.  My favorite act was the housecats jumping through rings of fire. They were into it although the trainer had to give them a treat and run his hand along their smooth backs after each jump, coaxing them into the next hurdle. A few decided not to jump through, but he still gave them food.  His food and his hands were unconditional.

For the finale, the  trainer placed his best cat performer into an iron star ringed in Christmas tree lights and raised it on a pulley into the center of the big top where it began to swing around and around.  As the star dipped and rose, the cat hunched complacently in the iron basket.  My husband pulled me into him, warm chest under my side as we both let out soft gasps. Even as the metal star swung further and further out, the cat remained calm in the exact center of something both shining and not real.


Even If You Think No One Else Will See