Catherine Daly reviews Antidotes for an Alibi
Amy King Antidotes for an Alibi BlazeVox Books ISBN 0-9759227-5-0 2005
These poems read to me like poetry versions of flash fiction. Now, I like flash fiction very much, but I like the more fabulistic kind. Amy King is writing the fabulistic kind of flash fiction -- I want to say, "the good kind" -- in poetry. What does this mean? Well, when lineated, the line breaks in the poems point to the jumps in the narrative. When not, the poems still take the same little leaps that poems take. I guess I'm struggling with the new sentence this morning. I am not seeing "torsion" as I understand it, nor am I looking for it -- I am just saying that these poems have little leaps in them that flash fiction of a similar type does not. For example, this poem, "Evening In," is a story of screening a particular kind of call:
Mother phoned the premature death of father to me. A machine shuffled her words. I played back the story of my childhood and grieved.
Now, I would probably end the stanza here, or title it something different. In any case, the evening in begins with a message in a machine. I would think flash fiction might use "the machine" and not jump so quickly to "story of my childhood."
After dinner, blocks of toddler teak wood fell, then floated, mistaken for cork. Household acts boiled over Aunt Max's black pot rim where we succumbed to the likelihood of work. We were all enchanted when the little kettle dripped and wrote proverbs to complete our pact with amazing accents. Dessert hints wafted past raised cups of homeground coffee, whiskey-tinted, under the blue haze of living room light.
In this second part of the poem, the progression is chronological. After dinner, some french press coffee and dessert. I don't think "household acts" and "dessert hints" would be in flash fiction. They are too mysterious. Interestingly, the references to fables and fiction continue, in "enchanted," "writing," "proverbs," "pact, " and "accents." The line break after "dripped" makes it unclear whether the kettle (presumably whistling) is writing or that "we" who are enchanted are writing. But overall, a little story of a poem, which is recognisably a poem, not fiction.
In the next-previous prose poem, "Land into Sea," the jumps are between sentences -- I don't see each sentence doing as much heavy lifting as in a poem, and I see bigger jumps between the sentences. I also see bigger jumps -- associative ones -- than in fabulistic flash fiction. It has the logic of some poems where the themes are established, play together a while, and then reach a conclusion. We start with a relatively concrete example, a fabulistic but also realistic fear:
On the car-hugging road, I am shocked that one day I fall asleep and the stray dog could die.
Not the road is hugging the car, not the car the road (as car commercials would have -- did you know most city car commercials are filmed in downtown LA?). In any case, car, road, sleep, dog, death. Very clean and neat. Then, out of the shrubbery at the side of the road -- a crowd.
These orders of truth awaken self defense, so urge the crowd, "Betray yourselves." Every fugitive deserves retreat at depths the bathysphere can't reach.
Who is the fugitive? The narrator? The dog. The dog and the narrator. The narrator is more likely to fall asleep and die than fall asleep and kill a dog. I.e., life is fugitive. So you see, by figuring out the difference between the first sentnce and the second sentence, you've got poetry, because flash fiction tends to spell this sort of stuff out, not point all sorts of different directions. But, note, this is sentences which are addressing different people and having different characters, not necessarily "torque-ing" as I understand it.
Since lame-o short reviews usually mention the title, I'll say -- I like this title and the way is points to the flash fiction in poetry theme. For what is an alibi, but a very specific sort of potentially verifiable narrative. And what is an antidote to that, but the fabulistic.
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