12 June 2012

Creaturely and Other Essays, by Devin Johnston

This book is an interesting case study in the definition of the prose poem as a genre. There is indeed something poetic about the way the ideas are strung together, a kind of precarious layering of associations that doesn't quite amount to an argument so much as a cluster of related thoughts that mutually shape and inflect each other. Some of the observations are really interesting and thought-provoking. I read the whole thing in one sitting (during a 45 minute bus ride), but wished that I'd spent more time on it and chewed over the ideas a bit more.

Simultaneously, however, I hated the language. Perhaps because it was described on the back as a series of prose poems, I expected the language to be incredibly beautiful, but instead it was... I can't even explain. A mealy mouthful of gristle. It was so weird, because there is something incredibly vivid and evocative in the imagery, but you're so keenly aware of the tortured medium that's conveying it to you. I don't know if this example can convey it, but perhaps?

 Dark begins to fall. Beside a picnic shelter, a drunk man vomits violently, doubled over in his camouflage jacket. The owls seem to pay him no heed; but suddenly, the female opens her wings and enters a long swoop, the field pouring away in her wake. (100)

I can see it all so clearly. But the alliteration of the violently vomiting man, the assonance of away and wake, honestly, even the amount of syllables - there is no musicality to it. Is it just me?

The whole book is like that. Slightly precious, a little bit cliché, and strangely ugly - but also kind of lovely and interesting in both its imagery and its ideas.

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