Wednesday, August 06, 2008

New Prose and Poetry

Returning from Canada's bookstores, I'm looking forward to my reading as the days get shorter. I now finally own a copy of The Pound Era and, on Ben Lerner's recommendation, Rosmarie Waldrop's Curves to the Apple. I've already enjoyed several pages of these books very much.

I also found an old copy of Irving Layton's prose collection Taking Sides, which allows me to tell a story from a few years back, when I was first looking for it. I had forgotten the title, but found (I think) Fortunate Exile in an online catalogue, which I thought sounded like a likely title for a book of Layton's prose. I called the bookstore to ask whether it was prose work. The girl on the phone asked me to hold on, she would check.

"Yes," she came back saying. "Great," said I, "I'll be right down to pick it up." And off I went. When I arrived I discovered to my surprise that Fortunate Exile is an ordinary book of ordinary poems. "Excuse me," I said, "but didn't you say that this was a book of prose?" "It isn't?" "No, it's a collection of poems." "Yeah? What's the difference?" she asked cheerfully.

Her colleague, standing beside her, now chuckled. When she looked at him imploringly he said, "You're on your own here, babe." I did my best to explain what prose is. Citing examples and saying, as I recall, something about the writing reaching all the way out to the right hand margin.


Presskorn said...

Although it’s probably a sin to take delight in the ignorance of others, I really enjoyed this little anecdote. Especially, the brilliantly operational definition of prose, “the writing reaching all the way out to the right hand margin”. In any case, welcome back.

Thomas said...

Yes, I felt that same guilt, which is why I've waited so long to tell the story. (It's three years old.)

But I now see that we really do need to shake our heads and roll our eyes at things like this. It's just another example of the lamentable state of retail expertise. This was even a used bookstore, where you normally expect book lovers to man the counters.

She's got a job in a book store and does not know the prose/poetry distinction! That's ridiculous. It's not just ignorance.