What is a beginning? What is an ending? What makes a particular grouping of words become a poem or a story or a fiction or a non-fiction? And do these labels, these distinctions, even matter?
For anyone who does not know, I’ve been reading and thinking about books that may or may not fit into the category of Contemporary Verse Novels. In attempting to define “contemporary verse novel,” I turned to several presses, books, and authors that I wanted to study and better understand.
Contemporary Verse Novel
Novel in Verse (vs. Novel vs. Poetry)
I first looked at Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution, and C. A. Conrad’s The Book of Frank. In grouping together these three books, I examined the role of family as both familiar and unfamiliar to readers. I spent some time discussing the mother/son relationship in Autobiography, the abusive father in Pink, and the strange mother who keeps jars of fetuses in Frank. In better understanding the families, readers also gain further entrance into the lives and minds of the protagonists. Whether fiction or non-fiction, poetry or short story collection, family is a solid theme that many authors write about.
I first heard about these two books from M. Kitchell’s post at HTML Giant.
I went to the Dalkey Archives website and read:
“In 1983 Jacques Roubaud’s wife Alix Cleo died at the age of 31 of a pulmonary embolism. The grief-stricken author responded with one brief poem (“Nothing”), then fell silent for thirty months.“
I immediately bought both Some Thing Black and Alix’s Journal, but it wasn’t until tonight that I finished reading them, first Jacques’s, then Alix’s.
It took me the past three days to finally finish reading these, particularly because I began with Some Thing Black. I kept putting it down. Every time I read a few poems I felt the need to get up and walk around, breathe, get air. I kept experiencing terrible waves of sadness. Jacques’s words are overwhelming. Here are two poems that appear consecutively in the book:
First “1983: January. 1985: June” (p. 31):
The rhythmic range of words fills me with horror.
I can’t bring myself to open a single book of poems.
Evening hours should be abolished.
When I wake up it’s dark: still.
Hundreds of dark mornings have been my refuge.
I read innocuous prose.
The rooms untouched: chairs, walls, shutters, clothes, doors.
I close the doors as if silence.
The light rises over my ears.