This Proses A Problem Or Two by Ken Stange
(North Bay, Ontario: Two Cultures Press, 2008, $14, 106 pages)
These Proses A Problem Or Two, Ken Stange’s strange collection of prose experiments, reviewed in this venue, Vallum, immediately invites the question, “if this is prose, why discuss it in a magazine centered on poetry?” Well, perhaps because, for all its arcane circumvention of the ordinary, it is a self-conscious study of poetics—one with sufficient unexpected juggling to pique the interest of those who love the how of writing.
The book’s framework is that of any “textbook”: look at an author’s work and consider the embedded lessons. Outside the “reality” of These Proses, a reader is fully aware that the first-person persona is also the author of all the writings attributed to “Theodore These.” Disguised as jargon—because “character is a word for an illusion”—“Stange” says as much in his introduction: “I am These, and you are These, [.....] An illusion is not just something you see: it is also something you are” (9).
“Didacticism is one of These’s obvious flaws” (34). Throughout the book, I was briefly confronted by each use of “These” as a surname: its essential, ingrained role as a demonstrative demands consideration. Stange, clearly aware of the pause forced onto his readers, has not only chosen to maintain it, he runs with it: “These is slippery, plural, pronoun without referent, adjective without noun, allegedly understood but pointing nowhere. These is the magic of the implied” (98). The effect of “These” used as a proper name (the “lesson” in the pauses) is perhaps to remind writers that each word carries many meanings, willy-nilly, regardless of which meaning they believe they are intending. Fortunately, whether for variety or for sake of clarity, “Stange” also refers to These as T.T.
So if These Proses concerns poetics, what might be some of the musings? In the “Introduction,” “Stange” rejects considering These’s alleged poems because they are “extremely abstract and elliptical” (14). The rest of the book reproduces and comments on These’s prose experiments. The “Second Prose” concerns “Free Thinking” (29),
ignoring all rules and letting The Source to flow naturally. When permitted to do so, this internal Source will generate more than enough ideas. Of course only some of these ideas will be of any use, [...]
Of course only some of those ideas will be of any use. “These” goes on to say that “Fortunately there is no waste in discarding the ‘useless’ products of this natural Source.” Would that more writers remembered that!
“These” explicates Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” on a variety of levels. Section C, “Use of alliteration, consonance and meter” (55) is almost a poem in its own right:
Knight-at-arms, hero alone, alone, aloneness, love lost, the ‘l’s with ‘d’s of wild arid cold, chill and harden, those ‘l’s standing up above all vowels, alone like all lilies of death, held full, in thrall, that relish of love lullèd, killed, [....]
In another experiment with mined words and phrases, this time from Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages to New France, “These” composes “poems” with varying degrees of approximation to English. His “Conclusion” (90-1) in verse is as good a reminder as any of what passes for/constitutes contemporary poetry. It begins with the triplet, “Define meaningfulness!/ Define poem!/ Define New France!” and ends,
Depends to some
extent on the
within a unifying context.
Despite the line breaks, clearly this is not a poem. However, surprise, disjunction and unifying context are worthy considerations for the writer of a poem. Line breaks do not make a poem, words make a poem. Interesting, well-placed words will appeal according to reader sensibility. Some readers will prefer the unusual-for-poetry diction from the “Fourth Prose” (40-1).
These walking, the lower brain, the old, reptilian brain guiding him along, oblivious to the cerebral cortex, as he is oblivious to his own movement. Walking: a constant falling corrected just in the nick and niche of time.
Other readers will prefer the “lyrical” vocabulary which begins the same “Prose”.
Quiet as the moon smeared on winter snowfields in a far-north empty of life, hollow as one man’s speech in that sort of landscape, slow as the approach of spring towards the heart heavy with winter [...]
Two contrasting excerpts from the same “Prose”—the very contrasts contributing to its overall energy.
In these prose experiments, Stange, “Stange” and “These” dart at their topics, looping closer and closer, not actually closing in. Readers must make the final leap. Those who enjoy riding on an asymptote will enjoy These Proses and what they imply about writing. Others will debate its merits, or lack thereof. “As long as there are words, These matters are not settled” (105).