One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.
To illustrate this point, I asked Adrian Koesters to write a few words about what she brings from her poetry to her prose. Here is what she shared with us:
Flannery O’Connor has famously said that anybody who lives through childhood will have enough to write about for the rest of her life. I’d add to this that living through a childhood in Baltimore 40 years ago filled my ear with enough distinctive cadences to write through to last through the rest of mine, and these are what come naturally to me as I write. The rich, thick, what one of my sisters calls the “Dundalk” accent but that you might identify as the language of the “Hon”; the loud, long melisma of the vegetable street-cart vendor crying, “Strawberries! Cherries!” as he passed our house (we never-in-all-my-life heard these men called Arabbers); our cries of “Wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute!” after the ice cream car that we’d just gotten permission to run after with our nickels or dimes; my grandmother’s now-soft elisions (the way, for example, she could make the simple, embarrassed courtesy of the word “no” last for four syllables), now-percussive “No, not that!” or “Tuppitware,” as she called it, or “I-never-did-in-all-my-life” or “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” The tall, sexy white girl two doors up who sashayed past us where we sat on the front steps, taunting, “I ain’t got no/Skinny leeeegs!/I ain’t got no/Flat chest!”
When I first began to write poetry as a girl, it was these elisions and percussives that I was most aware of when I sat down to write something, and to the extent that I was at all conscious of what I was doing, those were what I tried for. In the early days, like many young writers, I loved poetry for, as I thought, its get-in-and-get-out permissiveness. The brevity of a poem allowed me to explore for an instant something that was more often than not too frightening to stay with consciously for long. Still, in working a poem in this way, to get the sound I might be able to get out of it, I also over time discovered the great pleasure of simply giving myself over to words, to those moments that you literally lose your “self” in the act of creation.
When I much later came to prose, the drummings of poetry in common talk stood me in great stead, as you can see a bit in this first line of an early unpublished story titled “The Ape Guy,” where I attempted a story with words of only one syllable: “There’s a blue page on the wall with a guy that’s been dead a long time.” If you scan that line, you’ll see how the stresses fall: There’s/a blue page/on the wall/with a guy/that’s been dead/a long time. If I read that line, I myself can’t visualize the guy or the blue page but I readily hear the series of anapaests (two short beats and a long) ended up with a spondee (a short beat and two longs), without even knowing that I hear it.
And for me, this remains the greatest pleasure of writing. When I find myself sliding into those moments in a run of dialogue, a block of narrative, or a stanza of a poem, where the beats of the language that filled me up in my first days emerge somehow to make another, new small bit of music that talks to me, and, I hope, my reader: that’s when I know I’m doing what I most want to do. It’s also where I find myself, again, at home.
Adrian Koesters is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. She attended high school in Bellingham, Washington, and has lived most of her life in Nebraska, where she has worked in Omaha and Lincoln as a high school teacher, secretary, sign language interpreter, academic advisor, editorial specialist, and university professor. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and a Ph.D. in English (fiction and poetry writing) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches writing and is the host of the online reading series for Prairie Schooner magazine. She has been an assistant editor for Ted Kooser’s syndicated newspaper column “American Life in Poetry” and is the fiction editor at A River & Sound Review journal.
Adrian’s BHB title Many Parishes is on sale at a discount through the end of this year.
For more on the aural aspects of poetry, see “Discovering Our Authors: Peter Weltner.”