I think they’re catching. Tomorrow eve I’ll be reading with Stephen Knight at the Broadway Bookshop in Hackney and the event is billed as ‘Poetry on Broadway’ but it won’t be poetry I’ll be reading but on the other hand what to call them, these pieces? In this case I mean the pieces, single prose paragraphs appended to black-&-white photos, that make up the Days and Nights in W12 book. Some are non-fiction, some are fiction, some are speculation/reflection. It a kind of writing that, after I’d given up on poetry (or vice versa), just bubbled up. Definitely not prose poems. Not flash fiction either.
(Stephen Knight’s own ‘novel’ Mr Schnitzel, by the way, is another example of the kind of betwixt-&-between form of writing that can surface when neither poetry (I’m guessing that it seemed to be coming slowly; or that there was material which Stephen wanted to get into his writing but the poetry door was closed) nor prose fiction (all those ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’, all that bother with beginnings and endings and ‘character development’ and so on) seems right. Mr Schnitzel: autobiography, memory, retellings of magical tales: try it.)
And then this week an artist sends me a series of short pieces he wrote – one or two paragraphs each – during a spell at the British School in Rome. And from someone else, both poet and novelist, two sequences of short prose pieces, one of them tentatively described as ‘Improvisations’. Which suggests something experimental, minimalist – but those words (and certainly their associations: formal concerns drowning out character and wit) are not the right ones. The pieces feel feel entirely natural; reading them is a pleasure.
This may be because the form chimes with the usual way in which I pay attention. TV: if I come in late, the last thing I want to be told is ‘the story so far’: I watch and am held (or not) by what happens to be on the screen at the moment, and rarely stick around for the ‘ending’. Some people read novels like this: Gert Hofmann’s Lichtenberg & The Little Flower Girl is among a friend’s favourite novels, but he’s never read it straight through.
In last week’s Saturday Guardian, there’s a profile of Aleksandar Hemon in which at one point he says: ‘I went back to things I had written, many of the things I had written in the 90s, and there was only one paragraph that I really liked.’ Nods and grins of recognition. But there was at least that one good paragraph. Which might prompt another one, not necessarily in a narrative way, and another. And then how they relate to one another itself becomes interesting. And then the word collage may become applicable, and we’re into territory written about by David Shields – there are precedents and parallels and more to come.