Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Verse Novels IV: John Bricuth

John Bricuth has written two books that he calls "narrative poems"; they both seem to me to qualify as "verse novels" (although perhaps he might try to downplay the "novelistic" elements). I picked them up in the U.S. in March and read them on the plane home. Yes, both of them, all the way through.

The first, Just Let Me Say This About That, was published in 1998. A brief prose introduction sets the stage; it begins:

"The following poem takes the form of a press conference. The three questioners are named Bird, Fox and Fish. The person being questioned, addressed only as 'Sir,' either God, the president of the United States, everybody's father, or a combination of the three."

This structure becomes the springboard for a wide-ranging story told through questions and answers; at times highly philosophical, at others it is uproariously comical. Still other passages become entirely tragic.

As "Sir" says once, though, "boys, let's not go crazy chasing details." Further, Fox complains about "the coldness of examples." Instead, here are some quotable passages:

You come away convinced the sense of self

And its survival had its start in childhood
Memories of being held within a
Parent's gaze, that look that first conveyed

The notion they were someone separate, special,
Safe from harm as long as daddy watched,
Until as they grew up that gaze was swallowed

Whole, and came back as the soul.


We'd had the better of the bargain: merely
To have been, and been aware, within
A universe mostly made of vacant

Space, freezing cold, drifting dust,
Represents so rare a gift that if you
Reckon in life's ordinary share of

Joys, then add the world's surprises, you've got
A big mix justifies any amount
Of suffering, at least that's what I think.


I know you'll laugh at this, my thoughts began
To clear. I had a kind of revelation, Fish,
That burst of level lightning one associates

With several types of Eastern wisdom—
The seven ways, the twelve steps, the four
Tops, the three pigs—I don't know ...

I know it had a number in it, Fox.


Bricuth's second "narrative poem" appeared in 2005. As Long As It's Big takes the same discursive situation, adds a few characters, and makes it more concrete: the setting is not a parody of a press conference but a divorce trial in which Fox and Bird have become lawyers for Fish and his wife. Like its predecessor, the book runs through a wide range of emotions and registers. Some readers might prefer the somewhat tighter intensity of Just Let Me Say This About That (which might partly explain why I did not note any particular passages of ALAIB), but others (the majority, I suspect) will prefer the clearer narrative of As Long As It's Big. I enjoyed both books immensely and recommend them highly as two more extraordinarily successful and utterly unique examples of the peculiar category of the "verse novel."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Shields!
Just Let Me Say This About That sounds like a funny book. I love the idea of Fish, Fox, Bird and God holding a press conference.

I came across your blog through René's site, so I just thought I'd say hello. I hope your summer holidays have been pleasant so far.

Kind regards,
Tea Jankovic