The Poetry of Prose in Creative Nonfiction

Snow in Trees

Finished reading James Agee’s “A Death in the Family.” Been thinking a lot about the “poetry of prose” in creative nonfiction these days.   Not just the lyrical beauty of prose, though it’s hard not to get stuck in a brilliant passage like this, “fiction” as it may be, from Agee as he describes the evening noises of a neighborhood settling down toward sleep, the fathers after dinner hosing down the summer yards:

Meantime from low in the dark, just outside the swaying horizons of the hoses, conveying always grass in the damp of dew and its strong green-black smear of smell, the regular yet spaced noises of the crickets, each a sweet cold silver noise three-noted, like the slipping each time of three matched links of a small chain.

Look at that little piece of figurative language, those links of a silver chain slipping.  Just look and listen.   In a piece I did for Essay Daily on the lyric impulse, about a student who wouldn’t look at her own bricks strewed throughout her essay on building a house, I quoted from the philologist Max Mueller, who said, “man, as he develops his conceptions of immaterial things, must perforce express them in terms of material things because his language lags behind his needs.” What I understood then was that figurative language becomes the vehicle for greater precision of expression; exactitude grows through metaphor, not necessarily through narrative.

I still believe it. Leonard sent me to a stunning essay published in the New York Times, I’m Going to Die. I May as Well Be Cheerful About It, by Mary PipherMy mom is almost 91 and she wants to die, which she tells me every time I see her, so I think a lot about death now.

At the end Pipher’s essay, Pipher suddenly turns to the image of snow, what becomes the profound metaphor of her piece: “All of my life I have loved snow.” She then describes a beautiful memory of her and her family safely ensconced in their home while a Nebraska blizzard raged outside. That memory becomes a spiritual experience, snow outward and inward until death becomes a whiteout.  There is the great precision, the greater exactitude of metaphor:

Snow falls inside and outside of me. It settles my brain and calms my body.

I hope death feels like watching the snow grow thicker and thicker. Doctors call dying of a morphine overdose being “snowed.” I would not mind that at all. I would like to disappear in a whiteout.

As I tried to tell that student of mine so long ago who wouldn’t pick up the gift of the bricks she had given herself for even a moment,  sometimes we have to hold the thing our heart sends us, though unbidden, though not always understood, and let it just be for a little while, filled with mystery and some other kind of better truth.

#writerat9600ft

My newest book, Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children from Saddle Road Press, available through Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Powell’s Books, and Indie Bound.

PINKPROGRESSION IN DENVER

A Collaboration of Writers and Artists : the PINKPROGRESSION in Denver

Just over three years ago, a sea of women in protest of the rhetoric and actions that permeated the 2016 election donned their pink pussy hats. They marched arm in arm with citizens of all genders and races in a breathtaking show of solidarity against the walls of misogyny and racism.  This historical march ignited artists and writers across the country to continue the movement in exhibits that showcase “human rights, equality, gender identity, and inclusivity.” 

Well, the PINKPROGRESSION is here, now, in Denver. It honors the fourth anniversary of the Womxn’s March and the centennial anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.  A week ago, Poet Carol Guerreo-Murphy and I, through google docs of all things, put in the last line breaks and the last fusion of images in our series of collaborative poems, Two Women Poets of (Certain) Age: Letters of (  ).

We’ll join over twenty fabulous Colorado artists, poets, and writers in the Poetry + art reading and book launch at theMcNichols 3rd floor gallery, March 14th from 1-3p.m. as part of the PINKPROGRESSION:COALESCE exhibit. The reading will be followed by a writing workshop, A Letter to My Mother, presented by Eriko Tsogo from 3-4 p.m. The book will accompany all 2020 exhibits.  

I know as we wove our poems together, through a surprisingly creative technology, that Carol and I thought about our daughters and our daughters’ daughters and their sons. My friend Monica Fuglei’s little girl, topped in the  pink pussy hat that Monica knitted for her, reminds me of the world of beauty and creativity and acceptance that we can’t just want, but demand for them. I am looking forward to seeing the worlds and visions my fellow artists and writers created in their collaborations.  I hope you will join us.

The PINKPROGRESSION:COALESCE exhibit continues through April at the McNichols Civic Center. PINKPROGRESSION: COLLABORATIONS exhibit, a fusion of narratives and mixed media  opens at the Arvada Center in June through August.  These exhibits include collaborative art exhibits, artist talks, workshops, readings, and book launches. Go to Pink Progression for all the details.

Interviewing the Poet Edward Hirsch: Poet Marty McGovern Shares His Recent Conversations with Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation

Edward Hirsch and Marty McGovern

Whitman? Socrates? Magis? “Garage Publishing?” Sacred mornings? Ruffians? Exactly how does one go about interviewing Edward Hirsch, the President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation?

Continue reading “Interviewing the Poet Edward Hirsch: Poet Marty McGovern Shares His Recent Conversations with Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation”

An Interview on The Journey of a new book, Chained Dog Dreams, by Carol Guerrero-Murphy

Book cover of Chained Dog Dreams and author picture

My friend, the poet Carol Guerrero-Murphy, and I go waaay back to the late 1980s when we were both completing our doctorate degrees in Literature and Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Denver.  

Jobs, daughters (and son), and books later, we’ve found ourselves following similar paths again: retirement, partial teaching employment, writing, and books. 

Chained Dog Dreams (Finishing Line Press) is Carol’s second poetry book. Her first book, Table Walking at Nighthawk– this early winter, I even got the privilege of climbing over the family gate with Carol and walking up a snowy lane to her ancestral cabin in Nighthawk- was a finalist for the WILLA Prize in Poetry. Laura Pritchett calls this collection of poems, “quietly moving, deeply felt look at our vulnerable world, our vulnerable souls.”

Continue reading “An Interview on The Journey of a new book, Chained Dog Dreams, by Carol Guerrero-Murphy”

Convergences of Poetry and Prose: In the Light of Ocean Vuong and Michael Steinberg

Book cover for On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

I was in the Florida Keys, reading the poet Ocean Vuong’s genre-blurring novel, On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, off my Kindle when the first social media posting of Michael Steinberg’s death appeared in my Earthlink. Michael, writer and founding editor of the literary journal, The Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, and I had just emailed each other a couple months before because, as all the beautiful tributes to Michael’s generosity attest to, he had kindly agreed to write a blurb for my upcoming book, Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, despite his upcoming eye surgery, asking only that I send my manuscript in large script. I did not realize then how serious his eye condition was, nor to what discovery it would, so sadly, so soon, lead.  

But even before I heard about Michael’s death, Vuong’s novel, a soaring and lyrical tour de force about Little Dog and his family of refugees from Vietnam, had me thinking about the convergence of poetry and prose and what Michael had written to me a few years ago when I asked him to be part of an AWP presentation on the lyric essay.

Continue reading “Convergences of Poetry and Prose: In the Light of Ocean Vuong and Michael Steinberg”