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.
After posting Adrian Koester’s piece for this series about how her poetry influences her prose, the next logical step was to look into prose poetry. So here’s what BHB author Andrei Guruianu has to say on the topic:
Andrei’s 2014 BHB title.
I write prose poems to not feel restricted by the format of free verse, to not be limited by its form, its near predictability. But that is only part of the answer. All poetry is the constant struggle against the futility and limitations of expression. It is an experiment in using language to bridge the gaps within the self that language itself creates.
My work begins in that gap, in the gulf between language and self. I was raised speaking Romanian but began writing creatively in English. Thus, I feel estranged from the language of my birth, from the mother tongue. With age, I realize that I’ve never quite felt at ease in that language, instead allowed myself to be wrapped up in nostalgia, in sentiment, in the illusion of home.
When I began using English, I was fully aware of the mask I wore, that I was only borrowing the tools I needed to say what I could no longer say in Romanian. As such, Romanian and English have never fully belonged to me and I do not fully belong to them. This is the rift, the perennial split that I cannot mend. The words I use have always been measured, calculated, turned over on the tongue and in the mind until I’ve reached an approximation of meaning. But it has never been enough and likely never will.
Language fails us daily. That’s not a secret. That through language we get closer to truth is only partially correct. Each utterance severs us from reality—both from the thing it points to, which it can never be, and from ourselves, since no word or sound or image can ever mean a self. With each word, we drift further away from it. Ironically, our only way back is through language: futile, exasperating, sometimes beautiful.
It is with this knowledge that I write, and which, in hindsight, I use to judge what I’ve written. As a stranger in the mother tongue as well as the borrowed tongue, I am always one or two steps removed. I see myself from a distance, and no word so far has gotten me any closer. I can say that I experiment with style and voice then because no single approach has ever sufficed or left me satisfied. So I try and fail and try again.
The failure of language is a humbling realization (at times it is all we have), one that places the writer at the beginning, forces a reckoning with the self. It is also a realization that can be incredibly freeing: it allows for experimentation, for exploration. If language fails then the answer must lie elsewhere, and the search for that place is invigorating, a bit disorienting, but ultimately a fruitful one.
Prose poems, for now, seem to me the closest to an honest and accurate expression of sentiment. It will not last; the world will outrun my ability to keep it still within the confines of a line or a paragraph. But by experimenting with the contours of language, the rooms it inhabits, we give ourselves another means of expression, our readers another way to enter into meaning.
Yes, language fails us, and maybe we have failed language (I am nearly certain of it), but that should give us even more reason to keep looking for the place where it feels most at home, where the word leans up against a wall and for a moment feels secure, feels like it can stand on its own and speak for itself: a tree, a sunset, a howl or birdsong, almost a life.
Note: While two of Andrei’s recent collections published by BrickHouse Books (Made in the Image of Stones and Portrait Without a Mouth) fit the category of free verse, much of his writing over the past couple of years has been prose poetry, loosely defined.