For the last three hundred years or so, prose writers have, from time to time, glanced over in the direction of the poets for some guidance in certain matters of life and writing. Contemplating the lives of poets, however, is a sobering activity. It often seems as if the poets have extracted pity and terror from their work so that they could have a closer first-hand experience of these emotions in their own lives. A poet’s life is rarely one that you would wish upon your children. It’s not so much that poets are unable to meet various payrolls; it’s more often the case that they’ve never heard of a payroll. Many of them are pleased to think that the word “salary” is yet another example of esoteric jargon.
In a recent conversation with a fellow prose writer, I articulated my frustration with writing my artist statement, one of the many documents I crafted on the job market this past fall and one I am still revising. (Is an artist statement ever done?) I told her while I know my work is interested in the relationship between artistic practice and social justice, I don’t yet know what that relationship is. She put down her glass and blinked at me as though I had asked her if paper was thin, then proceeded to tell me that while art itself might not be capable of instituting change in the world, it creates the space for change to be imaginable.
In his manifesto Reality Hunger, David Shields uses assemblage to curate a dialogue about the limits of The Real. The voices he appropriates and sequences implicitly argue that our increasingly urgent twenty-first century desire for reality is compromised by the fact that our storytelling mechanisms are growing further from it. As Shields notes (without acknowledging in the text proper that he is parroting E. L. Doctorow), “There’s no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.”
Lately I’ve been obsessing about the liminal spaces between prose and poetry, how one can inform the other, and how—stripping bare the artifices for a second—one is essentially the other.
* Gina Balibrera *
“He who wears this burgundy velvet vest possesses an energy that cannot be adequately described in words. Photography, yes, for sure. And when you study it, this photograph of your holiday soirée months later, you’ll realize it wasn’t the vest that made him. He made the vest.”