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Response & Bio Joyelle McSweeney

A kid walks into his fourth grade classroom on the day a report on horses is due. When he hands in his report, the teacher sees that there's just a few notes scribbled on the first few lines, and nothing else. 'Where's the rest?' the teacher asks. 'The rest,' the kid replies, 'is silence.'

I love verse for the way it foregrounds presence and absence, the pane of the voice against and amid the shattering or bolstering silence of the page. Thrilling lyrics, for me, are dynamic; one pressure pushes against another, the voice makes and remakes itself, subsides, tacks around and mounts a new attack on blankness, while the page always gets the last (non-)word, always sounds its inimitable, complete answer.

But lately I've been writing prose, and the reason is this: there's just not that much silence in my life right now. I don't feel driven or derided by silence. If anything, I'm experiencing too much howling feedback, too much static, churning noise from the non-me world, i.e. print, electronic, audio and visual media; religious and political rhetoric; etc etc. And that's not to mention the steady hum that derives from my own spleen and noggin. And so poetry for me right now is a new kind of pressing back: I want to make a feedback, a noisome static, a planetary howl of my own. I like prose poetry because it obliterates silence for the time that it exists. I like to fill up the whole line, the whole damn page, many many pages. At the same time, I like its temporality, its 'flash in the pan' existence. There's an honesty in that. I like that it exposes itself. Everything shows in a sentence. And, Christ, if I could write a poem like a flash of lightning in the darkness, in the night, or poem that had the alarming, concise immediacy of the awful sight of some dude's exposed member, plus that after-feeling of dreadful contamination that obtains when the walls of the trench coat fall again... I'd be deliriously happy. If my pieces don't work as flash fiction, then for god's sake let me be a flash poet.


Joyelle McSweeney's second book, The Commandrine and Other Poems, was published in 2004 by Fence Books. She lives and teaches in Tuscaloosa, AL, and has recently founded Action Books with Johannes Goransson.