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


Magical Nature and Nicola Waldron’s Girl at the Watershed

It’s starting to feel like autumn in Tennessee, which is definitely a rare and welcome treat for this time of year.
I think changes in weather make me notice nature in a way I don’t usually…the colors of the trees, the colors of the sky in evening time. It just seems to point itself out to me in times like this.

That’s why Nicola Waldron’s Girl at the Watershed was a perfect read for me this week.
She’s simply fantastic at creating magical nature imagery that leaves you with this profound sense of wonder and thoughtfulness.

To go through every poem would take forever, simply because truly good poetry is always going to be deeper and fuller and more expressive than can easily be explained.
(A lesson for all of us, huh? If your poem is easily digestible, every image surface-level, all language and illusion understood at the first read-through, it’s time to add complexity.)

So here’s the last four stanzas of the final poem of the book, “Shine:”

“Leave off writing postcards,
seeking what you never dreamed:
it has come around
to winter and loving —
to prosperity — and you
cannotwillnot see the daisies.

You turn
in earnest, three times,
likes a dreaming dog.

Follow my tracks
along primrose —
they are deep and cloven,
and tipped with moon.

home) –”

I could offer some deep and drawn out phrases about these beautiful lines,
but I’ll just say this: they’re magical.

She juxtaposes language in interesting ways, changing words’ parts of speech so they attempt new and intriguing things–“follow my tracks / along primrose.” It’s ethereal, yet simple.

I think her use of punctuation also draws attention to the oddly magical way she’s using language.
She ends the entire book with two dashes, almost as if to say, “it’s not done. These poems continue on. They are more than me.”

She makes nature-imagery have this almost Native American sanctity, this expression that must originate from a close connection with the earth… “deep and cloven, / and tipped with moon.”

My current project is centered on a single summer of my life, so nature imagery is definitely something I am going to personally be working on incorporating in a more consistent and intentional way.

So here’s what I’m taking away for my own writing on this late Sunday evening–

1. Play with language and punctuation. Do interesting things. Experiment.

2. Write about what you are connected to. Nature, faith, relationships… write what you feel connected with because it definitely shows in your writing.

3. End your poems/collections with a hint of surprise, a little cliffhanger to keep your readers thinking.

4. Keep reading work by those who’ve been doing this longer and more intentionally than you.

Friends…write, be inspired, and go outside. 🙂

Abigail Joy