Prose Poetry and Purgatory

Tonight, I read Amelia Martens strikingly short and powerful chapbook Purgatory.
And it was nothing short of stunning.

The book consists of 20 paragraph-long prose poems that each describe a different creepy, self-reflective, psychologically magnificent idea of purgatory.
Now, I’m not one to say I believe in purgatory. But as someone studying psychology in addition to English, I find this chapbook and the idea in general to be fascinating.

What would purgatory look like if it tapped into the deepest and most toxic annoyances, fears, and paralyzing limitations of the human mind and experience?
Amelia Martens tells you, and she writes it well to boot.

Prose poetry in general is wonderful to me because it, by definition, means creating poetic language without poetic form. This means that poems have to stand alone in their language without the additional assistance of line breaks. Prose poetry is poetry’s elitist cousin (in my opinion, coming from someone who often uses line breaks to cover a multitude of sins.)

Her language is surprising and very in-depth when it comes to detail. These purgatories are fascinating and disconcerting mostly because of the amount of detail she pours into a short paragraph.

If I’ve learned anything about good writing it’s this:
(If you can’t tell, I’m writing late at night after a long day of Reading, Writing, and Thank God No Arithmetic so you’ll have to forgive my expressiveness)

I think my favorite example of how Martens uses detail to bring these unique ideas to life is in “The universe grows smaller every day”:
“The universe grows smaller every day. The grocery store on the corner moves like an ice sheet, eating up the sidewalk. The nine has already been lost on your chalk box of hopscotch, and the walk you take in the evening, up to the post office, takes less and less time. Soon there will be no darkness left, as streetlights pile up at the end of the block.”

This idea, that the universe is growing smaller, is a little creepy if you think about it. When you have details like streetlamps crowding the street into eternal daylight, you’re put in that scenario for just a moment and you have to face a deeply human fear… the fear of shrinking. Of being less than what we are. Of not moving forward in innovation or in our ability to have our own space to exist.
And we’re faced with, not only an idea of purgatory, but an aspect of the human condition.

If you’re interested in learning more about Amelia Martens and Purgatory, click here.

Keep using those details, fellow writers of the Interwebs.
Keep writing things that unsettle, things that reveal humanity.

Keep describing what no one else can.
Abigail Joy


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