Australian Prose Poems

Eight days ago we were seated in a circle in rainy Melbourne as part of a Master Class sponsored by the Victoria Writer’s Center and Tashmadada. Wonderful writers and theater practitioners all over the room. One of the finest writers was also the most soft-spoken, a compelling and accomplished poet and editor named Alex Skovron.

There’s lots to read about Alex on line, and plenty of his poetry can be found there too. But his very latest work, a collection of prose poems–perhaps as many as 100, all of pretty much the exact same length–is only now being published and he’s sent me a few. They’re quite wonderful and Alex has given permission for us to sample some here. Master Class, indeed…


    I REALIZE now what was happening. I was storing up against a winter that would never arrive. The pavilions were teeming with plush figs and lusty yellow blossoms that dazzled at mid-afternoon; the poppyfields adrift in the tender breeze impelled their ineluctable perfume, small boys in blue-and-white frolicked above the orangery, dragging behind them skyfuls of kites shaped into swans and coronets; from the bartizans where smooth-cheeked maidens stood on Sunday, brushing their silky cascades like eiderdowns of longing, there wafted a music uncanny enough to entrap any passing troubadour; while down in the villages, on market day, the stallholders yelled and haggled and pinched at the thighs of each other’s women, clapped every yokel’s back for a sturdy buy, and grinned with rich tongues through blackened teeth. Sometimes I would pretend that I strolled among them, or past the deserted huts along the spruce-wood where children never ventured, or that I followed the tussocky moorlands up to the ruined palace, brambled and murky, draped in a gloom so obsidian under its own perpetual cloud. And though I fancied myself enthralled by its demented gargoyles and decaying turrets, always I turned away from the daydream with a shudder, reclimbed the terraces back to the lighted pavilions, my meagre abode. As I squatted browsing among manuscripts, awaiting the first snows, peering through the half-drawn curtains of my lectica, listening to Corelli, grandly in concert with my quarantine, how could I guess the belated bearers of winter would not appear?
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    THAT TIME, Turgenev said, when regrets are like hopes, and hopes like regrets, and youth has fled but old age not yet arrived. And meanings still evade us, perch behind the illusion on the glass, and reasons avoid us, and the face becomes the reason, the reason explained away. Some things are beyond explanation, it is all we can do to express them. Like the moment of recall from night, when we struggle to retrieve what it is we are trying to forget, to forget what we strain to remember. Reaching the provinces, how grand our relief to ascend to the windswept plateau beneath the ambiguous clouds, how fitting then to detest the printed ravines of the noisy lowland. But the city of memory looms behind sky’s reflection – like a colossal craft that suddenly scrolls overhead, sliding a terrible magnificent ceiling across the mesa, its underside fabulous with eerie shapes and circuitries – to mock us with its infinite grandeur, or summon us on a journey of no return. But when we listen, the music is not alien; it knows us, inside-out. We hover then, we regret and hope, we struggle to find some kind of solid state between river and rock. When we look up again, the monolith has vanished. We scratch the sky for reasons, juggle meanings. So we worship it, maybe we call it God. Or take the middle path, as Montale said, between understanding nothing and too much; the province of the poet; of us all.


    EACH SOUL is the hostage of its own deeds, says the Koran. The city breathes in time with the music of myriad souls. They flock to the amphitheatres, they scatter from the rain when it lashes the metropolis, assemble in shops and street-palaces, repose in livingrooms observing their parcels of dreams. The clock grows dizzy, the season declines. Each day they collect their ransoms, paid by themselves into their private books. The scroll grows thick as it unwinds. It would be impossible to compute the sum, on a single day, of all the thoughts and deeds transacted in the city. An endless book, is the city of myriad souls – it would be necessary at once to read each letter of every word on all the pages of this endless book in order truly to understand the city. Perhaps only children understand the city – they cradle their colourful balloons past windowfronts full of words and inventions; they run along alleyways blind to the glistening sky. They do not require anything of the sky – the sky, they understand, will always open above, but the city will vanish the moment they close their eyes. They will be given lullabies, they will unwrap their parcels of dreams, their breath will trace an unransomed sleep to the music of an endless book. Meanwhile, as the amphitheatres and palaces grow dim, the rain will return – and who, then, among the city’s myriad weeping souls will not envision tranquil gardens watered by running streams?