Two poets' prose writings

Martina Evans, Petrol
(68pp, pb, 8.95, Anvil)
Jacques Réda, The Mirabelle Pickers
, translated by Jennie Feldman
   (93pp, 9.95, Anvil)

Two books by poets writing prose, both stylishly controlled, very different in effect. As with translation of poetry, such a statement - 'stylishly controlled, very different in effect': this kind of writing depends so much on atmospherics, on the words chosen for all the reasons fine writers choose and use them, but in some essential way, The Mirabelle Pickers is now a book in English, it's Jennie Feldman's book. I hear an Irishness from Martina Evans (born in Cork, lives now in London) in a way I can only trick myself into hearing French from Jacques Réda (born in Lunéville 1929, lives in Paris).

Is seems a fixed criterion of prose poetry that it is reflective, abjures narrative melodrama or indeed any sequential working towards a denouement. To say prose poetry is a ramble through experience may not give the full flavour (when it works), but something like.

It is perhaps characteristic that there is a looking back, memories come leaking through. Here is a Jacques Réda sub-section opening:

     By now it is late morning. Retracing my steps, I go down Rue des Capucins. It
     used to have a well-known bakery that somewhat tempered the horror of going
     to the barber and the tedium of piano lessons.

Juggle it back into French and there is perhaps more of a nostalgic lilt. Whereas he writes in the present tense, Martina Evans is always in the past, though it's an actively present past and the text is well populated:

     We were in the hallway, arguing about the television because Bertha said I
     should have turned it off anyway, weren't you there to do it?
I was watching
     the door handle going down slowly and then Justin was standing in the hallway
     shouting about fat arses and lazy fuckers and cheap girls.

Her prose races along in contrast to Réda's, who engages with a more meditative mode, while both tell it as a voice present in a way - they might seem to say to us - that matters to them if we'd care to listen in. And a word here about typeface: both are set in Monotype Bembo, making them seem two of a kind. It's a gentle typeface, Evans might seem to be fighting to escape it, Réda to flow with it. Yet both write - if I'm not myself whimsying about them - as poets. They are not trying to sell us a story.

Anvil's presentation on the back cover of Petrol is aware of an ambiguity: 'Petrol
is a prose poem disguised as a novella of adolescence'. Could it be as well the other way round? On the cover of The Mirabelle Pickers there is no such attempt at definition: it is 'the height of the plum-picking season ....old acquaintances .... often whimsical ...these five days .... with tenderness and humour.'

I confess I don't know their poems, but I am intrigued enough to look for them. My inclination is to quote from the final brief section of each of these books, and perhaps it would give nothing away - as one might quote from the final poem in a sequence; there is in each a running down, a sigh, everything's OK but for each - very differently - it's been quite a journey.

Which begs the question what any piece of writing does to us, the readers. (And incidentally, thinking of Monotype Bembo in a book, whether it would be the same on a screen, whether desk computer or out of one's bag or pocket). I read these books in tandem, moving from one to the other, and at first I was drawn into 'Petrol', thinking The Mirabelle Pickers
rather plain, but somewhere along the way I heard, as it seemed, Jacques Réda's voice more empathetically, I started happily to be there, and lost nothing of my first engagement with Martin Evans' more voicey drama.

        David Hart 2013