The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry
edited by Robert Alexander and Denis Maloney

White Pine Press
2008, hardback

Robert Alexander has published two books of poetry, What the Raven Said and White Pine Sucker River: Poems 1970-1990. He edits the Marie Alexander Poetry Series at White Pine Press.

Denis Maloney's most recent books include The Map is not the Territory and a translation of the Castle of Castile by Antonia Machado. He is the founder editor/publisher of White Pine Press.

"I begged the great and implacable dark to make you better and bring you home, offering up Babar or Barbie the way I’d offered Raggedy Ann, on whom I operated, slitting her kapok-filled chest with nail scissors and digging my fingers in deep for her heart."

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

So, I hear you ask, what is a review of a prose poetry collection doing on The Short Review? This is a site for short fiction, not poetry in the disguise of short prose…

Yes, The House of Your Dream is a collection of prose poetry. But a collection that crosses lines most poetry stays behind. There are narratives, characters, voices, stories in these pieces of writing. They have the mind of a poem but the body of prose. They might be fictions or autobiographies, who can tell apart from the authors? There are ninety authors represented in this collection, so it would be difficult to ask them all.

Reviews of short fiction collections are scarce, especially for small presses, but it's even more difficult to find reviews of prose poetry collections. The content crosses genres: in style and in audience. I'm writing this review here because many of these prose poems are like very short fictions, and certainly the kind of writing the audience of The Short Review might want to read.

Brief, experimental, varied pieces of writing; this collection represents the many writers that White Pine Press has published over the years. White Pine is a leading press for prose poetry, having published many of the leading American prose poets of different generations. If these names ring any bells, then I'm talking about Charles Simic, Russell Edson, Pablo Neruda, Robert Bly, David Ignatow, Nin Andrews, to name but a few.

You can expect almost everything in The House of Your Dream: tiny vignettes, brief flash fictions, longer poetic prose. I Remember Clearly by Imre Oravecz is one sentence crossing onto two pages. The Sound by Maxine Chernoff is only dialogue. It is hard to define such vastly different pieces of writing, but perhaps short epiphanies is a good description; or "glimpses"; or the poetic musings of people who hone their writing down to the bare bones, yet give us insights that can leave us pondering for hours.

Take the title piece, for instance, which begins:
"I enter your house with stealth, making sure I'm dressed properly – checking buttons, the shine on my shoes – trying to look normal because you say your dreams are so ordinary and I don't want to stand out."
We are central to the action of a character entering another's dream. It is magical, yet ordinary, this journey we are taken on. However brief, it resonates with us because of the idea: what we would see if we could enter the dream of another.

Other stories in this collection are: a mother dies, a child hits a man in the crotch at a ball game, some children finding a dead body in a barn, a grandfather returns from war, a father and husband takes a gun to work and opens fire, a woman is shot in a store robbery, a man hears the voice of God. The themes are eclectic, but there is nothing obscure or inaccessible about these stories. They are everyday thoughts, happenings, observations, imaginings, fairy tales, and realisations that appear on the page like dreams. There are slow musing stories, fast-paced writing, and intense delicious prose.

At random, I have picked out these excerpts to give a flavor of what you might find inside this book: "
I prayed for you – Our Father who art in heaven… Now I lay me down to sleep – every prayer we knew, our words a useless gabble we wanted to be true, falling from the small, mint-scented churches of our mouths"

Alison Townshend A Child's Book of Death

"When I was sixteen, I put on cologne that smelled like chrysanthemums and let a pornographer take pictures of me sitting in icy water that made my nipples stick out like chimneys."

Val Gerstle Mom Told Me to Grow Up and Win the Nobel Prize

"There were nights when it seemed to me your eyes, under which I drew orange dark bags, were about to ignite their ashes again."

Paul Celan VIII

This book is about discovery, not reading cover to cover, but picking out stories or prose poems that appeal to us in the moment and relishing them.

PS. The book is designed in an accessible way as well: writers are arranged A-Z, there is an easy to use index, biographies, a list of other prose poetry anthologies, a list of books from which some of these pieces are reprinted, and a good short introduction that explores the history to this anthology.

Read a story from this collection in Prose Poem: An International Journal

Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Brace (Comma), Unsaid Undone (Flax Books), Transmission, Ouroboros Review, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, Cake, and Pank magazine. .

Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

"One World Anthology"

Samuel Ligon "Drift and Swerve"

Alice Zorn "Ruins and Relics"

Ailsa Cox "The Real Louise"

Mary Gaitskill "Don't Cry"

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Charles Simic "The World Doesn’t End"

Pablo Neruda "The House In The Sand"

Robert Bly "Collected Prose Poems"

Peter Johnson (ed) "The Best of the Prose Poem: An International Journal"

Any of the anthologies in the Marie Alexander Series published by White Pine Press

What other reviewers thought:

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