Sentence: a Journal of Prose Poetics, a publication of Firewheel Editions is, in my not-always-so-humble-opinion, one of the most exciting and satisfying journals being published today. Editor Brian Clements favors work that is provocative (but not ceaselessly edgy) and often inventive, but nonetheless solidly grounded. There is seldom anything superfluous or ostentatious; never anything crude; nothing designed to shock or surprise for the mere fact of surprising. The work tends to be highly original and idiosyncratic, but is rarely opaque, obscure, or impenetrable. Inventive forms and hybrid genres are created of carefully crafted language, respect for the integrity of meaning, and attention to the primacy of rhythm and the value of original, but plausible and impressive imagery.
This issue is terrific. I would be hard pressed to single out highlights, since there wasn’t a single inclusion that isn’t worth reading or doesn’t merit attention. I was particularly taken with D.E. Steward’s “Julet,” a history poem of several pages that consist of sentence-like lines linking a variety of historical moments, landscapes, geographies, and cultural realities: “The tribal-state Pacific, the nation-state Atlantic,” for example, and “In the time of Li Po, Wang Wei, and Tu Fu.” I appreciated very much, as well, a political treatise by LeAnne Howe, “Note to Self,” in six two-line “volumes”: “If you can invent a country / you can invent its past.” And also several poems from Catherine Sasanov’s new book Had Slaves (published by Firewheel). I have written in deservedly glowing terms before about Sasanov’s work – beautifully composed, moving, and which combines narrative and lyrical impulses masterfully.
There are numerous highly satisfying prose poems in this issue, including John Olson’s “The Blisters of Lisbon” (“The blisters of Lisbon are fecund and white. The blisters of Lisbon are operas of chafing. I miss my youth. But this has nothing to do with the blisters of Lisbon.”); several by Douglas Guy, my favorite of which, “Coracobrachialis,” is composed of a mere four lines (“A deep muscle of the armpit, its action is adduction – put the arm against the body.”).
This issue’s Special Feature is Contemporary American Indian Prose Poetry, featuring some expected contributors (Sherman Alexie, Heid E. Erdrich, Diane Glancy), and many names with which I was unfamiliar. The feature begins with a strong, insightful essay by Dean Rader. I liked especially “If Only John Ashberry Were Gregory Corso, If Only Gregory Corso Were the Terra Cotta Horse on the Coffee Table with the Magazine Open to the You Can Be an Artist Ad” by Gordon Henry, which begins: “Morning’s another mouthful of smoke somewhere in the land of little vegetable labels, another dog is chained to a northern laundry pole with no lines running between it and its rusting southern double, casting a T shadow.” And Laura M. Furlan’s “Gathering Ghosts,” which begins: “There are ghosts in my house, my father declared. This was seven or eight years ago, and I barely knew him. He was living in Little Rock, in a rough part of town. How many ghosts? Three for sure, he said.”
I must single out a prose poem, which I would classify as a short “poetry essay” (poetry theory) by Gary LaFemina, “In the Prose Poem Lab.” He defines the prose poem here as “the missing link between the to-do list and The Odyssey.” This brilliant little summary defines precisely why prose poetics – and Sentence – is so endlessly fascinating.