Judy Kronenfeld


As a teacher, I have been tempted to or felt impelled to try to come up with some definitions or parameters for the prose poem—is it different from the short short story, or so called “micro-fiction” for example? Or indeed, from micro-non-fiction? And if so, how? I’ve persuaded myself at times that the prose poem is often more imagistic and sensuous than the short short, and certainly it need not have character(s) in the usual sense, or a clear narrative arc with some kind of recognition point or epiphany related to character. And yet…and yet… the lines may be muddier than that. Short short stories may have imagery, of course, and poems have or imply moments of recognition “between the lines.” I swear that I’ve seen the same piece of short prose published as a prose poem and as a short short story, on occasion (perhaps a piece by Russell Edson?), and some journals I have come across invite very brief prose pieces without worrying exactly how to brand them. So perhaps all we really have is a variety of traditions within this somewhat amorphous and flexible category—the surreal and fabulous (which I am not exploiting in these particular poems, though I have in others) being a major one. The only thing I am pretty sure of is that the prose poem depends on sentence rhythms, rather than on the cadences encouraged by line-breaks (though the way sentences flow through the lines of lined poems is indeed also part of their effects), and thus has a more horizontal energy (as others have certainly said), and depends, as well, on brevity.

“Precipitation of Memory” is a mini non-fiction essay, a tiny reflection on and enactment of memory. “Routine Bloodwork,” in particular, has probably been influenced by the prose poems of Gary Young, which are their own special subgenre. Young’s often involve a narrative about some realistic human situation, pared way down to the barest essentials--simple, truthful, and (as I can only hope my poems are), very, very moving.




Precipitation of Memory

I want to remember them freshly, rustle them up from memory scraps that yield up new information, new possibilities of understanding—new mother, new father, resplendent in my brain pan. I think of the cleaners who joked that they could construct an entirely new dog from the fur of the dog they extracted from our rug. (This was Muddy. Dead Dog #3.) But is there anything I can remember that I haven’t already remembered? Anything I can think about I haven’t already thought about, recombinantly spliced into something I thought of before? Even that carpets cleaners’ joke is a chestnut of my memory hoard; this squirrel packed that nut into the burl hole long ago. I keep on wanting to find them again, new unfermented chestnuts, so to speak, that I didn’t remember I saved, to find an image, remember a moment I haven’t already stamped in my memory, seen in a photograph, used in a poem, dreamt and remembered dreaming, to bring them closer, zoom them in, brush out the sepia wispiness, lower the temperature and make the miasma of memory precipitate… We are in the rain, dad’s attendant and I, struggling to trundle his huge smelly Raggedy Andy body into the van to take him to the doctor’s, and I smell it now, my reward for which I am grateful, that sour, pungent urine smell that makes my nostrils recoil.


Routine Bloodwork

The nurse said, smiling, “This will just take a minute, Mr. Z. Please put your arm on this armrest,” and I lifted my father’s forearm gently onto the board. She said, “You look like a very nice gentleman, Mr. Z,” and glanced, kindly, at me, after tying the tourniquet around his withered biceps, palpating and swabbing the inside of his arm, and guiding the needle into a vein. Two years ago he would have smiled a little brave self-mocking smile, just for me, or to ingratiate himself with the nurse; last year he would have said “OUCH!,” like a small boy who’d been misled; a few months ago his “OUCH!” would have momentarily awakened him from sleep. “Thank you, Mr. Z. You’re a very good patient,” the nurse said, carefully releasing the tourniquet so it wouldn’t smack his skin, then smoothing out a Band-Aid in the crook of his elbow, and I kissed the top of my father’s head that slumped on his chest, and returned his flaccid arm to his lap.



435569-855685-thumbnail.jpgJudy Kronenfeld is the author of a book and two chapbooks of poetry, the most recent being Ghost Nurseries (Finishing Line, 2005); her second full-length collection of poetry won the 2007 Litchfield Review Annual Book Prize in the poetry category and will be published in 2008 by the Litchfield Review Press. Her poems, as well as the occasional short story and personal essay have appeared in numerous print and online journals. Recent and forthcoming poem credits include Pebble Lake Review, Barnwood, The Pedestal, New Verse News, Calyx, Natural Bridge, and The Cimarron Review, as well as a number of anthologies, including Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease, edited by Holly Hughes (forthcoming from Kent State University Press). Three of her prose poems will appear in Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California, edited by Christopher Buckley and Gary Young (forthcoming from Alcatraz Editions). She teaches in the Department of Creative Writing, at the University of California, Riverside.