Friday, 23 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Seeing Oaks" by Frances Presley

Seeing Oaks


Her love of her mother. Her mother’s gift of language.  We were looking at dead or almost dead trees today, trying to decide where we could plant trees for my mother and what kind.   Mr Carslake offered two yews, but I don’t really fancy yews.  They were always in church yards.  There’s a very practical reason for that ....  to keep the cows away for their own protection.   And it was a very useful wood.   Not that they are really poisonous.  I remember Hanley, was that his name in Ruskington?    Hanwell     Yes, he ate a few berries just to show that they weren’t.  Because there were yews at the bottom of the school garden.....  Or walnut trees, he said we could have walnuts.  I’ve got nothing against walnuts, I suppose they’re native.  But I was thinking more of oaks, or maybe ash.  Don’t you think, oaks?  He examined  the branches of a great tree in a clearing that looked almost dead, snapping off some twigs.    They could clear this away.


pine needles
wish bones
these two must be separated
not in the same house
skin flurries
wind or the furies
sleep creases

he said that the two oaks will grow
and if they die
they will be replaced

and I imagine my mother
watching them
my eyes her eyes
these gaps of sunlight
between the shifting oak leaves
and that is true of any oak tree

"Seeing Oaks" comes from Somerset Letters, originally published as a book by Oasis Books in 2002, with selections, including this one, later included in Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996-2003 (Salt, 2004). Presley's last two books were published by Shearsman; to learn more about her and her work and read selections, please see her Shearsman author page here 


Rachel Perkins said...

In the first section of Seeing Oaks, it’s the tone that the narrator takes that helps it work as a prose poem: the tone is relaxed and conversational, and the narrator is addressing an unknown person. It’s considerable that this prose poem takes place inside the narrator’s head. All apart from the first two sentences, however, which seem more like an introduction to the prose poem. The vagueness of who it’s addressed to, along with the switch in person (3rd to 1st), helps the piece glue together as an interesting prose poem.

Sophie Lyons said...

Seeing oaks is an interestingly formatted prose poem because of it's two different sections – one of continuous prose and the other with line breaks. The only evidence of the two being connected is the reference to the narrator’s mother, and oak trees. The voices seem entirely different – the first section more analytical and practical, taking a stream of consciousness feel to it regarding the trees, while the second section takes an emotional, more internal tone on reflection of the narrator's mother. This poem clearly demonstrates how close line poetry and prose poetry can become – with the same topic being used for different emotional outcomes.

Katy Wilson said...

‘Seeing Oaks’ is presented in two different formats but makes a successful prose poem as it inhabits a running theme. The first half of the poem can be interpreted as a stream of conscious thought (first person) as it takes on a conversational tone. This can be concluded from the continuity of prose and the self-answering of questions. By contrast, the second half of the poem adopts a more static process of thought. Hence the line breaks and abstract imagery. Overall, the contrasting layout has formed an intriguing prose poem; allowing the reader to ponder two states of mind.