Two poets' prose writings
Martina Evans, Petrol
(68pp, pb, £8.95, Anvil)
Jacques Réda, The Mirabelle Pickers, translated by Jennie Feldman
(93pp, £9.95, Anvil)
Two books by poets writing prose, both stylishly
controlled, very different in effect. As with translation of poetry, such a
statement - 'stylishly controlled, very different in effect': this kind of
writing depends so much on atmospherics, on the words chosen for all the
reasons fine writers choose and use them, but in some essential way, The
Mirabelle Pickers is
now a book in English, it's Jennie Feldman's book. I hear an Irishness from
Martina Evans (born in Cork, lives now in London) in a way I can only trick
myself into hearing French from Jacques Réda (born in Lunéville 1929, lives in
Is seems a fixed criterion of prose poetry that it is reflective, abjures
narrative melodrama or indeed any sequential working towards a denouement. To
say prose poetry is a ramble through experience may not give the full flavour
(when it works), but something like.
It is perhaps characteristic that there is a looking back, memories come
leaking through. Here is a Jacques Réda sub-section opening:
By now it is
late morning. Retracing my steps, I go down Rue des Capucins. It
used to have
a well-known bakery that somewhat tempered the horror of going
to the barber
and the tedium of piano lessons.
Juggle it back into French and there is perhaps more of a nostalgic lilt.
Whereas he writes in the present tense, Martina Evans is always in the past,
though it's an actively present past and the text is well populated:
We were in
the hallway, arguing about the television because Bertha said I
turned it off anyway, weren't you there to do it? I was watching
handle going down slowly and then Justin was standing in the hallway
about fat arses and lazy fuckers and cheap girls.
Her prose races along in contrast to Réda's, who
engages with a more meditative mode, while both tell it as a voice present in
a way - they might seem to say to us - that matters to them if we'd care to
listen in. And a word here about typeface: both are set in Monotype Bembo,
making them seem two of a kind. It's a gentle typeface, Evans might seem to
be fighting to escape it, Réda to flow with it. Yet both write - if I'm not
myself whimsying about them - as poets. They are not trying to sell us a
Anvil's presentation on the back cover of Petrol is aware of an ambiguity: 'Petrol is a prose poem disguised as a novella
of adolescence'. Could it be as well the other way round? On the cover of The
Mirabelle Pickers there is no such attempt at definition: it is 'the
height of the plum-picking season ....old acquaintances .... often whimsical
...these five days .... with tenderness and humour.'
I confess I don't know their poems, but I am intrigued enough to look for
them. My inclination is to quote from the final brief section of each of
these books, and perhaps it would give nothing away - as one might quote from
the final poem in a sequence; there is in each a running down, a sigh,
everything's OK but for each - very differently - it's been quite a journey.
Which begs the question what any piece of writing does to us, the readers.
(And incidentally, thinking of Monotype Bembo in a book, whether it would be
the same on a screen, whether desk computer or out of one's bag or pocket). I
read these books in tandem, moving from one to the other, and at first I was
drawn into 'Petrol', thinking The Mirabelle Pickers rather plain, but somewhere along the
way I heard, as it seemed, Jacques Réda's voice more empathetically, I
started happily to be there, and lost nothing of my first engagement with
Martin Evans' more voicey drama.
© David Hart 2013