Friday, December 24, 2010

Belly of the beast, mind of the first Missouri poet laureate

Poetry Scores received this enchanting letter in the mail today, the actual physical mail, from one Walter Bargen.

December 22, 2010:

Dear Poetry Scores:

I just finished listening to David Clewell's Jack Ruby's America for the second time. It's a wonderful and moving work by both the poet and musicians. As I sat back in my chair to savor the experience, the idea came to mind that you might be interested in continuing the project, that is, of recording Missouri Poet Laureates (I'm the first one). I thought what work of mine might fit with the structure found on Jack Ruby's America CD, and the prose poem sequence, Belly of the Beast, in the book The Feast came to mind. The Feast won the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2005 and Belly of the Beast won the Quarter After Eight Prize in 1996.

Belly of the Beast is a retelling of the Jonah and fish story in the Old Testament but this Jonah is a modern day character who is standing in a cashier's line at Wal-Mart with a plastic bag filled with water and fish or sitting at an office desk, all the while contemplating "where the ribs curve up into studded stars, sparkling with the remnants of the last backwash of cosmic debris, up the many rickety ladders, frayed ropes and tow-rope-thick varicose veins, along greasy precipitous ledges, that all led to his bone-roofed hermitage." I call the form of Belly of the Beast a povella (A word that I coined.), which is a series of prose poems that have a luminal narrative thrust that may focus on a character, an image, an experience, or something else. In this sequence, Jonah flounders upon Jessabelle, his future wife, on a North Miami nude beach when he is expelled from his fish. Jonah and Jessabelle are characters in six of the eight povellas found in The Feast.

If you're not familiar with the prose poem, it reads with all the rhythm and music of a versed poem. Charles Baudelaire describes the intention of the prose poem in the following way:
Which of us, in his ambitious moments, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose -- musical, but without (conventional) rhythm and rhyme, and supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, the promptings of the unconscious?
I've enclosed a copy of The Feast and Belly of the Beast is the first povella. If greater length is needed, I think sections of other povellas that involve Jonah and Jesse could be added.


Walter Bargen


Thank you, Walter Bargen! We will certainly read Belly of the Beast and the rest of The Feast and let you know what we think!

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