Friday 26 October 2018

Borderlines in Poetry and Prose

Words are wonderful
phrases are fabulous
 sinewy and flexible
adapting to changing times
to cultural settings –
and informing identity politics
demolishing class boundaries –
liberating perceptions
and breaking down borders
I am increasingly fascinated – even preoccupied – by the shaky borderline between prose and poetry, between memoir and fiction, between poetry written and poetry performed, between people performing poetry and stand-up comedians,

Recently in one of my regular talk among the trees @whitworthhall with Avril Joy [1] we wandered into the fuzzy area between fact and fiction, truth and invention within the prose and poetry universe which we both inhabit.
After writing three well-received novels (Including the  winner of the People’s Prize, the stunning  Sometimes a River Song) and winning national prizes  for her for subtle and surprising short stories, Avril  Joy has now returned to a first and favourite literary form: poetry.
In this Whitworth conversation Avril reminded me that years ago I quoted to her John Braine’s assertion  [2] that the task of the novelist was ‘to move people through time and space’.
She went on to discuss some  poems she had been reading where on a second and third reading she noticed that the writer subtly established movement through time. Hence the reference to John Braine.. And so I learned that this can be a mantra for poets as well as prose writers like me.
Avril is now developing a subtle and insightful collection of unique poems inspired by her many years’ uniquely perceptive experience with women in prison; the metaphor of ‘moving through time’ is exceptionally appropriate here.   I’m now looking forward to the publication of this illuminating collection.
As for myself I would always identify as a writer of long fiction with the occasional dart into the short story form.  Of course even in the short story I see narrative and character to be the most important elements.  At the same time I’m perpetually concerned that the prose style is graceful and elegant enough to carry truth in the narrative with its various layers and characters with their unique identities
But then occasionally I feel the need to write very short because that seems to me to be the only way to express the explosions, reaction emotion and feeling that that are scattered through the observed life.

I would never have the nerve to call these ‘poems’.  I label them ‘short lines’ or ‘short pieces’. As regular readers here will know I have paraded samples of these pieces here on Life Twice Tasted. I have assembled two small collections of these pieces, one of which was a result of trawling my notebooks going back many years. 
The other collection of these short pieces, published under Dancing Through the Panic grew out of a period of anxiety and depression  and proved to help in a difficult period.

 It’s hardly surprising, then, that  I am drawn to poetry which seems to have an underlying narrative   - from the Victorian narrative poets to the evocative modern poetry of the American Robert Hass[4].
Thinking it through  I suppose in my writing  I’m preoccupied with the storying of either my own life or that of the characters in places and times which spring out of my imagination. The evidence for this is in all my novels, not least my latest novel, Becoming Alice. And this in itself is the outcome of a long life closely observed and freely interpreted.

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