Patricia Young, Consider the Paragliders. London, Ontario: baseline press, 60 copies, 2017.
And really, what is a prose poem? Like a novella, it’s a hard, perhaps impossible thing to define. One description I came across was a short work of prose that reads as if it were poetry. Of course the next question is: does it matter? Patricia Young calls the eighteen paragraphs in Consider the Paragliders prose poems but they read to me (most of them, anyway) like miniature stories. Perhaps it’s a matter of you say tomatoes, I say tomahtoes. Either way, I very much like what I’m being served.
Here’s the first line of the first poem: “He grew up in a blue room by the sea, the light so hard and luminous it ricocheted off the walls.” It has a character, a setting, and the hint of a narrative to come. It’s also quite a beautiful line, the room itself seeming to become the sea, as if the child is submerged in its blueness, a comforting image were not not disturbed by the violent energy of “ricocheted.” And in a handful of sentences about solitude, stargazing, and an angry father, we are given a vivid portrait of the unhappy childhood of boys.
This first poem has a stand-alone feel, but it is followed by a short series that deliberately gives the feeling of autobiography or memoir (of the character, not necessarily the author). First she is a thirteen-year-old girl, paid by a neighbour to move boxes. Then she is eighteen and pregnant, using an empty suitcase found on the beach (a wonderful, Ondaatje-like image) to make her escape. Next she is asleep on a floor, her babe resting in a crate beside her, his skin smelling “Like a Fuji apple wrapped in red tissue”. It’s the delicacy of such images, perhaps, that make this poetry.
Again the narrative line seems to shift with a poem (playfully named “Story”) that begins: “My husband’s missing arm was a mystery.” Some of the pieces have a dreamlike, or perhaps surreal quality, such as the marvellous “Some Questions” which I take the liberty of reproducing here:
The two short lines on the left-hand side, by the way, are the ends of the binder’s knot. The chapbook, like all the publications from baseline, is a carefully made object, the cover and inside pages printed on heavy paper from the La Papeterie St-Armand in Montreal. It is beautiful without being excessively precious, or one of those book objects that one is afraid to touch.
These poems have a sort of weary wonder to my ear, the work of a dedicated, experienced poet who continues to find life mystifying and beautiful, brimming with regret and forgiveness. There are many more lines I want to quote, such as this one: “I have always been careless with people and now it’s too late.”
But not too late to write about them.