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Introduction to Issue # 8 The Editors

After a prolonged hiatus, the editors at Double Room are delighted to launch Issue #8 guest edited by poet and scholar, G.C. Waldrep. G.C. Waldrep’s first book of poems, Goldbeater's Skin, won the 2003 Colorado Prize for Poetry, judged by Donald Revell. Revell calls Waldrep’s poetry a “prolific liturgy, intense and conversational by turns,” while Dean Young remarks, “the reader encounters a fiercely intelligent and fiercely playful interiority that is astonishing.” We were delighted when G.C. agreed to guest edit this issue. We’re certain you will agree that it has been worth the wait.

Waldrep is also the author of two chapbooks, “The Batteries” (New Michigan Press, 2006) and “One Way No Exit” (Tarpaulin Sky, 2008). His second full-length collection, Disclamor, appeared from BOA Editions in 2007. In addition to these collections, many of you will recognize his work from various journals: Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, Boston Review, New England Review, Georgia Review, Colorado Review, American Letters & Commentary, Tin House, and New American Writing.

In addition to these extensive publications, Waldrep is an “award winning” poet in every sense of that phrase. His work has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Society of America, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Campbell Corner Foundation. He has been selected for residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and elsewhere. He was a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Literature.

Waldrep is also an accomplished scholar, as he holds degrees in American history from both Harvard and Duke and an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. He is also the author of a nonfiction book, Southern Workers and the Search for Community, which won the 2001 Illinois Prize for history. He has taught at Deep Springs College and Kenyon College. Currently he lives in Lewisburg, Pa., where he teaches at Bucknell University and directs the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets.

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Over the past year, since our last issue, the prose poem has experienced an unabated revival and resurgence. New journals and anthologies have emerged and writers from every kind of lineage and paradigm continue to experiment with this form. What was once considered “experimental” has become mainstream. This means some interesting developments, especially for writers still obsessed with Pound’s dictum of “making it new.” One wonders if the pp/ff has reached—to borrow a phrase from John Barth—a point of exhaustion. I mean this in Barth’s classic sense of “literature of exhaustion”:

By 'exhaustion' I don't mean anything so tired as the subject of physical, moral, or intellectual decadence, only the used-upness of certain forms or the felt exhaustion of certain possibilities--by no means necessarily a cause for despair.

In other words, is the pp/ff experiencing a sort of “used-upness”? Reading the work in this issue, one would have to argue, emphatically: NO. So, what is it that these writers are doing to keep the work fresh and compelling? Barth, of course, revisits this notion of exhaustion later in his essay, “Literature of Replenishment,” where he essentially clarifies and revises the earlier essay, but both are still relevant today, especially when considered in the context of the prose poem/flash fiction distinction. As Double Room continues to grow, never lacking in submissions, and the audience for the pp/ff expands, we are forced to consider and reconsider form and genre and the viability of pp/ff itself. If it has reached an exhaustion point, how do these writers persist in keeping this form vital, energized, and unique?

The very parameters of pp/ff seem at times to implode, then reconfigure in surprising and, sometimes, alarming ways. Should the restrictions that we provide as editors at Double Room become more rigid? Should we limit and bind our writers to very specific, perhaps baroque parameters? In a sense, this might provide a catalyst for the imagination in the same way Oulipo strategies attempt to stimulate the imagination through artificial restrictions, rules and constraints rather than inhibit it. In this sense, we might become more draconian in our restrictions regarding a prose poem. We might establish constraints that seem devastatingly restrictive on the surface and then see what writers do to take-up the challenge.

On the other hand, we might take the opposite tactic. That is, we can take a more nonchalant approach . . . one perhaps inspired recently by James Tate. Over the past year, I’ve heard Tate interviewed on a number of occasions where he redefines the prose poem again and again. He often relates exchanges he has with editors who consistently “mess with” his line breaks. That is, he submits his work as prose poems, but then insists that his line breaks remain intact. Even though our own definitions of the prose poem at Double Room have always been rather flexible—see our Submission Guidelines—this essentially runs contrary to our guiding sensibilities—albeit, rather unspoken—about form and genre over the last several years. That is, at the very least, we’ve taken a kind of mechanical approach whereby the margins set the shape of the poem, rather than conscious (or authorial) line breaks. In other words, the line runs from margin to margin. Upon further inspection, of course, this is a rather shoddy definition. Nonetheless, this seems to be the consensus definition when we wade through the various idiomatic, metaphorical or poetic definitions – it really, does, ultimately boil down to this. So, with this in mind, are Tate’s poems—recent work in Memoir of a Hawk, for instance—really prose poems? He seems to think so, and, really, so do we. But, ultimately, it’s difficult to pin down Tate’s definition of a prose poem. Sometimes he simply suggests narrative compression and other times he points toward something more: “a little sliver of eternity,” for instance. Or, disturbing: a “savage resurrection.” In a recent interview with Nick Twemlow, he does suggest a kind of prose poem methodology: “there's still something a little more relaxed in their method, in the pursuit of where they're going.”

Therefore, I’d like to propose a new way of thinking about the prose poem that diverges from the straightforward “mechanical” approach. So, to borrow a phrase from a friend and fellow poet: “nonchalance about line breaks.” Nonchalance is very appropriate here; it doesn’t seem to imply indifference as much as casualness. There remains an interest in breaking the line at a particular moment, but perhaps not a concern with exactness or precision. It is a gesture of a casual or imperturbable nature – a kind of sangfroid impulse, whereby the line breaks are chosen, not randomly, but also not obsessively. Perhaps not even carefully – just “coolly.” What is the point of line breaks anyway?

  • emphasis
  • suspend meaning
  • alter/change meaning
  • pacing: pause or speed-up
  • ambiguity
  • stretch meaning/expand possible interpretations
  • visual effect
  • de-emphasis
  • rhythm, sound, musicality
  • split the meaning/extend potential combinations
  • coincides with grammatical/syntactical unit
  • challenges grammatical units (enjambment)
  • normal speech pause (caesura)
  • >challenges the breath/speech pause
  • is consistent (Olson’s Projective Verse) with the breath

Does Tate challenge these reasons? Does he break the line “just because” . . . . Imagine trying that in a creative writing classroom? At any rate, the writers in this issue once again seem to challenge some of our basic assumptions about the prose poem. Some, in fact, may have had Tate’s “quiet challenge” in mind. We challenge you to consider these issues alongside the various other ideas raised in the work or in the Discussion of Forms section.

You will also notice a tribute to Dale Chisman on our home page. Many of you know the work of Chisman, one of the finest Abstract Expressionists outside the New York School locus. He was the very first visual artist we featured in Issue #1 of Double Room: It is with sadness that we acknowledge his death earlier this year with a revisiting of his work. He was a good friend and an amazing artist. We provide a few links here so that you can view some of his work and glimpse some moments amongst his friends and family.

We certainly hope you enjoy the issue. With that said, here are some thoughts about (or more correctly, perhaps, “around”) Double Room, Issue #8 from our Guest Editor, G.C. Waldrep . . .