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Hyphen: Sketching the Bridge With Invisible Ink

Hyphen: Sketching the Bridge With Invisible Ink

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Published by Joe Bonomo
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, Gary MacDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, eds. (Rose Metal Press, 2010)
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, Gary MacDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, eds. (Rose Metal Press, 2010)

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Published by: Joe Bonomo on Aug 02, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/21/2012

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121
The lyric moment has always held the power o narrative and the het o a story. My long-held admiration and love or
raconteurs 
, or riends orstumbled-on strangers who can command the energy and attention o a crowd with a detail-spiked story, casts my own limitations as a story-teller into clear relie. The ebb and ow, the conscious climb up Freitag’sTriangle, the deoresting o the brambly tale up ahead—whatever meta-phor works or you, it never worked or me.
Your stories are great! 
I’d say,but never while looking in the mirror. I was too sel-conscious, too ego-driven (too ungenerous?) to lose mysel in a story while leading others toa satisying end. This may be why I elt compelled to write lyric poems:I couldn’t soar over the hilly expanse o a good story, so I’d land here orthere, wing-tired, and explore the moment, the detail. I was content toexplore the side streets. A decade ago I began to acknowledge a growing dissatisaction withmy poems. They looked smaller somehow, the ink on the page narrower.I repeated the word
spindly 
over and over in my head while considering recent poems.
Stick legs 
was another phrase that virtually announceditsel as poems seemed to heroically rise rom my page and…then quickly sit down again, winded, their skinny limbs barely up to the task o sup-porting their bodies. My poems began to resemble Giacometti’s fguresas stooped senior citizens, and as the work became physically under-
Joe Bonomo
is the author of 
AC/DC’s Highway to Hell 
(33 1/3 Series, 2010),
Jerry Lee Lewis:Lost and Found 
(Continuum, 2009),
Installations
(National Poetry Series, 2008),
Sweat: TheStory of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band 
(Continuum, 2007), and numerous personalessays and prose poems. He teaches at Northern Illinois University.
Joe Bonomo
HypHen
Sketching the Bridge With Invisible Ink
 
122Hyphen
nourished, so did the subject matter. I was trying to translate the den-sity o the moment—the side-glance o human mass that we’re blessed with in ordinary domestic time—as a kind o prism through which many beams shine, but my poems were ailing in their lean and dull ways. And what they had to say was becoming thin, mean, and, worse, esoteric, akind o sterile cipher. Around this time my wie suggested that I writesome prose.I’d been mulling over a memory rom school, an awul day whena bunch o my classmates threw stones at a girl named Mina becauseshe was Iranian and Iran at that time held American hostages. In a brie prose piece I tried to write about the incident and whether or not I wasimplicated, worrying less about a beginning-middle-end then in circlinthe story though the indelible images I possessed o the day and era. Itrusted that the common thread among them would be strong enoughto bind together several pages, and it did. I began writing more essays,aligning mysel with Montaigne’s exercise o “essay” in
attempting 
tomake sense o the tones, sensations, and imagery my imagination clung to about occasions, trivial and large. I oten had no idea where I’d land.More jagged than arced, these prose pieces began to coalesce into some-thing more substantial, visually and thematically, than my poems. Themagnetic right margin, with which I no longer danced sel-consciously,tugged and lengthened my lines, layering them. And the discursive ele-ment and conversational voice relieved me (mostly) o the lyric, abstracttone with which my more recent poems had whispered, aectedly, tomy ear.My prose natively took shape as block text, but arranged musically,the sentences growing or shrinking as Denise Levertov observed thephenomenon in organic poetry. I approached the page with the sameimpulse I did when writing poetry: less with a subject then with a notestruck inside o mysel. And so my essays naturally hyphenate, sitting astride music and discourse, cadence and idea(s). I’ll always lean towardthe poetic with my eet frmly planted in the prosaic. When I became interested in exploring nonautobiographical writing, Istuck with prose. I began to work on a biography o a cult rock & roll band,
 
123Joe Bonomo
living and working in New York City or month-long stretches, poring over
Village Voice 
microflm in the New York Public Library, researching abled neighborhoods and bars. As a (very) poor-man’s Joe Mitchell, I wassatisying the urge to document an interesting era and world, but I eltthe pull toward a more imaginative engagement. I’d become especially enamored with art installations, those lively, dimensional, arranged-teasing o our environment. One o the last poems I’d written had de-scribed an early-1980s installation on the abandoned Lansburgh Build-ing in old-downtown Washington D.C., where black cut-out fgures hadbeen mounted along the exterior ledges and windows, appearing to bescaling the building in a creepy-crawly manner. It had been an arresting and unnerving urban image. When my attention turned to writing prose some years later, I revis-ited a poem that I’d written that had described a wholly-fctional instal-lation visited by a frst-person persona; I relined the poem as prose, and was immediately struck. I created each installation fctionally, thoughmany exhibited details borrowed rom actual installations I’d visitedor read about. Whatever “story” or “discourse” there might be in my description o any given installation was suggested and evoked by thearrangement o items. In essence, I was describing a poem with prose, was reporting on a visually poetic array, and the energy ignited betweenthe lyrical and the reportage elt new, and very interesting—a compoundo sorts. The prosody was pulling at the poetic to get into the game, totell, to list, to name, to document, to report, to oer history, an artist’sbio or maniesto; meanwhile the poetic was demurring, hoping that theprosiness would shut up or a second, be content to linger in the evoking o idea and concept by a still and quiet display o items and fgures.These Installation prose poems began to tell a story. I imagined thesame visitor at each installation, a curious museumgoer both eager andtentative, as each exhibit became weirder and stranger, luring him intoa magic realist aternoon that accumulates as a story or a novel does.Encounters with other nameless visitors underscore the humane centero the installations, the pooling together in the wake o great art. Aban-doning a conventional narrative arc, I simply dropped this guy into eachroom and watched the top o his head lit o. He’ll leave that museum

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