Ian Seed’s third collection, following Anonymous Intruder (2009) and Shifting Registers (2011), for Shearsman Books, is a playful sequence of prose poems full of desire and implication. It reads convincingly as a dream sequence and has a strong narrative pull around the life of a young Englishman studying Cesare Pavese in Milan. Divided into three parts the sequence sees the protagonist age, marry, travel and return to Italy. The movement is from desire to loss and estrangement, within the dream world, as well as from the outside to the protagonist’s inner world. The prose poems are impressionistic, fragmentary and immediate. They work as stories in that there is some change, albeit suggested, after an event or action. The narrative developments are invariably quirky and serve as twists or imply anxiety, menace or loss.
The baby fell from the balcony just as I was walking past. Luckily I was fast enough to catch it. The mother didn’t seem at all grateful. But I said nothing when I handed the baby back to her because I recognized her as the woman whom I met for sex on an almost daily basis in another part of town.
Unlike K in Kafka’s The Trial, Seed’s protagonist has the freedom to note his dreams and offer psychological insights into the private and personal spaces of his city life. The city prose poem, according to Nikki Santilla in her study, Such Rare Citings (Associated University Presses, 2002) has contracted its horizons and boundaries throughout the twentieth century from Baudelaire to Charles Tomlinson and Samuel Beckett steadily moving into the mind of the protagonist. Here the contraction continues in terms of the brevity of each poem. Thus:
I didn’t remember who she was, but when I began kissing her, I knew from the feel of her lips that she was someone I had once kissed years before.
However, Seed cleverly mixes the psychic material under review by repetition and the reappearance of characters. This makes for a playful and fascinating read. Thus the old man and his much younger wife in ‘Chances’ reappear in ‘Marriage’ and Nunzia, the girl from Naples, reappears in the poem, ‘Exchange’. In the poem, ‘Alba’, during a search for Cesare Pavese’ former home, the protagonist’s wife leaves him and a woman whispers in his ear that she knows of a room where they could make love, implying the protagonist is caught by the trappings of his earlier life.
This compelling and exciting collection of prose poems comes with an acknowledgement that they are fiction, and preface quotations from Martin Heidegger and Max Jacob.
David Caddy 19th April 2014