Short Pieces That Move!
Short Pieces That Move! is an optional reading + writing group, initiated by Kate Briggs and co-run by all those who participate. (no credits)
This reading + writing workshop sprang from an observation: a great deal of writing is happening in the studios. And a question: but what form(s) is it taking? And what of – how much consideration is currently being given to – the question of its form(s)?
Perhaps it is possible to name a few common features:
1. Shortness. A line, a paragraph, a page, maybe two pages maximum. 2. Work written to be read aloud and / or performed, not necessarily (if ever) for the page. 3. An interest in short-form storytelling. 4. An interest in (oblique) argumentation: the setting out and exploration of ideas. 5. A desire for the writing to hold something like the charge / power / compaction / openness / precision / indeterminacy of poetry. 6. An uncertainy around what to call (and how therefore to think about and affirm) the status of these writings: poems? stories? texts? scores? scripts? artworks?
Some of these features can also be found in the prose poem, a form defined in a recent anthology as “a poem without line-breaks” or “a genre with an oxymoron for a name”. We could spend a long time wondering about what those definitions offer and / or mean. However, the point is not to turn artists into prose poets. It is instead to spend time with this versatile form in order to learn from it.
The aim of this reading + writing group is to collectively establish an inventory of moves observed in other people’s writing to be activated / remobilized in new short written pieces or other kinds of works / settings / constellations of media and materials.
These new pieces of writing (or works) are then read together + discussed, paying attention to how they move.
What do we mean by move?
We mean writing that moves at level of ideas, moving from one thought another, forging new connections or undoing them.
We writing mean that moves in terms of place or setting: we start here at the table and go somewhere else out the window up to a distant planet.
Also time; writing that moves at the level of tense, from right now to the deep past to soon.
Writing that moves in terms of person, focalization, perspective: we start with I and we end on we, or her, or they –
Writing that moves at the level of speed, writing that accelerates, gains momentum, then goes lazy, suddenly still. (How does punctuation collaborate on this?)
Writing that contracts and expands.
Writing that moves within the space of the sentence (that uses the sentence as a space to make moves in) and from one sentence to another. (How does punctuation collaborate on this?)
Writing that moves at the level of its atmosphere, its weather, from cold to prickly and hot, from certain and sure and then to vulnerable, agitated to calm, and maybe back again.
Doesn’t all writing do this? Is a good question.
All writing moves, in the simple / complicated sense that it starts and if we follow the usual reading protocols we move through it and it ends: writing as a durational, unfolding medium, that works with the time of reading + therefore with memory as part of its material.
What is striking about the prose poem is how it knows it is moving, how it builds in any number (often a remarkable number) of moves into what remains a very short piece.
How many moves can you make / where can you go in the time-space of a sentence? Or two?
And where, by this means, can you take me? Writing that knows, by moving, that it is potentially moving me – the reader.
Moving me in terms of what the sequence of sentences is requiring me think about, to imagine, to pay attention to: all the leaps or small steps or slippages or reversals it asks me to make between images, settings, bodies, ideas. And in terms of my feelings: how all this movement might actually be moving me: affecting me, touching me, exciting me, de-stabilizing, bewildering me…
Note that sometimes these moves will coincide with what have been traditionally defined / enumerated / set to work as rhetorical devices, and that is interesting too.
One further area of questioning is the relation between writing on and for the page and writing on and for somebody’s voice: we will keep thinking about this and testing this together.
General reading so far: Jeremy Noel-Todd, ed. The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem (2018). Robert Haas, A Little Book on Form: An Exploration of the Formal Imagination of Poetry (2017). Renee Gladman, Calamities (2016) Holly Pester, https://poetrysociety.org.uk/the-politics-of-delivery-against-poet-voice/