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Three prose poems.




The boy is getting too many for me said Mr Cruncher…
(A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens)

I HAD SEEN him before with his dimly lit eyes, his incalcitrant lip, his sweat and bones. Too little, too leaning. Though I admit to liking that in a wall or the trunk of a tree. Don’t think I am harshly inclined.

I had heard his mood his malefaction his slight tenancy of mind, tasted the fruit of his carapace. Sweetly I dazed upon him, framed his face in the ovaries of his eyes. He needed a benefactor, but maybe so did I. Don’t think I complain.

I had seen him skip, reading the last page first. When I snorted he would not retort. He had read many an ending, for that was his concern. Apparently he’d been brought up that way, with many ways to predict; his future but one. Please don’t imagine I am credulous.

I heard his wimp, his whine and snarl, his sneer and the occasional giggle. He could play the trumpet, while I could only figure. I added his plusses and minuses, condemned his indifference then subtracted. Don’t wonder at my disparity.

I saw what I wanted, for which I am not proud. Each prolonged stare became only a stump in an ever changing stratosphere. His socks were always dirty white. Do not think I snub.

I saved up my pennies, bought him drainpipes to share goodwill. They sparkled like disintegrated diamonds. I played tiddlywinks, jacks, pin the tail, but not with him. I saw him scrutinise the flick of my thumb, my ping-pong retaliation. I hid him, but he still peered through me. Every whichaway, ubiquitous like Wally, a pale flame like Will o’ the Wisp.


ENID SEENEY (b.1931 d.2011) DREW kidney-shaped coffee-tables, Fifties sideboards, easy-chairs: Day‘s recliner, Bernadotte’s sofa. Domestic objects fair flew across the plates. Everyday pottery makes a home. Mason’s cracks easily for all its wealth.

A ‘muffin-maker’ makes plates, 4/500 in a day (generally about 320) no more than 7 ins in diameter. Is it necessary to explain? Concerning cutlery were canteens. Spoons not to be confused. Fish-knives, sugar-tongs. Crumb trails. Liberated mould. The road forks. Where o ware! Oven and earth. Takes the same type of biscuit.

Eric Gill (b.1882 d.1940) left Ditchling Village for Hopkins Crank, ‘an unreconstructed Georgian squatter’s cottage.’ Home-killed pig, home-baked bread. All be in the soup together. Animalistic variations: the cow of a jug, funnel-mouth, hind-parts hidden. Big belly spouting. Relative cosiness. Preliminary to something less uncommon. Neither the schools nor society had tinctured his strong nature.

Silicosis ‘chronic simple’ – miner’s phthisis, grinder’s asthma, potter’s rot (can become complicated). Running in all weathers. Considerably heated (130o F). Little legs breathing in. At the age of seven, his education being complete, he was summoned into the world … Darius was first taken to work by his mother. It was the winter of 1835, January … (J. B. Davis, Surgeon c.1840).

Did you know George Formby (b.1904 d.1961) held the world premiere of his first sound film, Boots! Boots! in Burslem in 1934? (nasal, high-pitched.) Tea-Pot (15/-) Mourning cups (2/6) Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle. Parian and porcelain, whiteware and luster. The blackened town hall.

… like a dark Pleiades in a green and empty sky … Handbridge has the shape of a horse and its rider, Bursley of a half donkey, Knype of a pair of trousers, Longshaw of an octopus, and little Turnhill of a beetle. The floors were often thick with wasted clay.

Hannah Barlow (b.1861 d.1916) kept a menagerie. An expert tube liner despite losing the use of her right hand. Women threw since ancient times. Seldom brought to light. Limited (look at Jane Eyre), fainting – ribs removed. Paintress, redress. Hour glass – not accidental. 75-pound bags of clay. Spontaneous abortion.

Faience, impasto, marqueterie, Carrara. ‘Doulton Lambeth Large Stoneware Tyg, sgrafitto – decorated with leaping and grazing deer. Impressed back-stamp, dated to 1876. In v good condition – no chips cracks, hairlines or restoration £850; Pair Of Royal Doulton Lambeth Hannah Barlow Goats & Children Vases c1900 £1,320.00.’ Buy it now, or make an offer. Other artists’ work has floundered and died.

Mason & Co. Knight & Elkin. Floyd & Savage. J. W. Pratt. Colclough. Booth. Riddle & Lightfoot. Minton & Boyle. Ginder & Co. W. Ridgeway. Dimmock &Smith. Copstick, jun. Copstick, sen. Bridgewood. Meakin. Wedgwood & Sons: Jiggers, Mould-runners, Oven-boys, Dipper’s-boys, Cutters, Handlers, Apprentice Painters, Figure Makers: boys & girls between the ages of 7 & 18, average weekly 2s. 0½ d.

Girl in peril

A FLOORED PENNY, a floundering fluke, on a hillside, in a headscarf, about to depart. Scoots back her chair a short distance. Closes the table. Fills a thermos with salt. Throws it in a particular direction.

An orphan, a scallywag, the bane of her (own) life, speeds across a frozen lake. Rides side-saddle, handlebars, dobbins (often found in children’s tales). Clip-clop, gob-stop, trip-trap, fan and gander.

In a pantomime, a ballet, a spic and a span: old tricks, bold tricks, up the ginnel. A tomboy, a minx, a problem on the page. Devilish (with pigtails). In black and red apparel, The faces she pulls!

General girl, girl for all seasons. A skater, a skelter, negotiating rapids, leaping over hurdles, standing on her head – guide-girl, toffee-tyke, pip in a pen. Rescuing the doctor, fetching the dog. In a hissy-fit; pinned on the lid of a tin.

Thoughts on the prose poem

THE PROSE POEM may stray from the point, cavort around, take in the scenery, but will continue to serve the central focus. Often non-linear, it allows for the discontinuous or compressed narrative, the associative leap, the fragmentary, the tangential. Predicated on the sentence, rather than the poetic line with its considerations of line endings, the prose poem encourages thoughts to be continuous, to twist and turn, hold themselves up short, or open out into a broader perspective, sometimes travelling at great speed. A multifarious form, making space to mine the interior as well as the exterior (there is always room for an image to enter – a bow say, a chest of drawers) it is ideal for capturing the vagaries of memory – what surfaces, what remains a bit of a mystery, about the past but happening now. It has been called a subversive form, a hybrid, ‘an anomaly if not a paradox or oxymoron’ – whatever it is it’s a shape-shifter not to be pinned down. Complex and ambiguous it encompasses many genres, from the absurd to the anecdotal, the comic to the narrative, the found to the epistolary. ‘It is a form that invites the practitioner to reinvent it.’ — LB

Note: Quotes are from David Lehman’s intro to Great American Prose Poems, from Poe to the Present Day (Scribner Poetry, 2003)

Linda Black is a poet and visual artist. Shearsman has published three of her collections:  Slant (2016),  Root (2011) and Inventory (2008). The Son of a Shoemaker (Hearing Eye, 2012), consisting of  collaged prose-poems based on the early life of Hans Christian Andersen, plus the author’s pen and ink illustrations, was the subject of a Poetry Cafe exhibition in 2013.  She teaches for the Poetry School and is co-editor of Long Poem Magazine.

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