Sunday, September 13, 2009

Under Occupation

This passage, from James Meek's recent LRB review of British novelist David Peace's new novel Occupied City, caught my attention:

We’ve become so used to American and Irish novelists polishing their sentences till they glitter with ingenious similes and wise passions that the notion of another kind of poetic prose, one where the poetry is in the larger structure rather than word by word, seems alien now. But that is what Occupied City is, and perhaps the novel as collection-of-poems-and-prose is where a novelist takes shelter during the periods when the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more. It doesn’t always succeed, and it is not easy to read, but what it is trying to do is ambitious. The rhythms of its framing passages are poets’ rhythms; its repetitions are choruses.

Ash for hair, soil for skin, among the flakes and the sod
We defy the fire and the rake, the spade and the grave
The grave in the earth, the grave in the sky
In the abyss of the sky, in the abyss of the earth
Your earth, your sky. Not our sky, not
our earth
not here, not now
Now into the heights, we
fall, into the depths . . .

It seems to me that one reason younger writers might become interested in formal innovation is because often "the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more." In my case this was, and still is, true.

I'll leave this topic here, open to discussion.

(I have seen, incidentally, the film adaptations of Peace's Red Riding Trilogy and they are riveting.)


jaffeantijaffe said...

I'm not sure that Meek's hypothesis re why certain serious prose resembles poetry is sufficient (Why can't "prose seem to take the weight of the stories any more"?), and the passage cited ("ash for hair .. .") seems too feverish to function well as prose or verse; but the notion of prose and poetry interfacing on the structural level at this particular historical junclture is provocative and worth considering.

Armageddon Buffet said...

Good post. Formal innovation is the best way for young writers to learn their craft.