They say you learn something every day. I would like to learn who “they” are, but until then I’m happy with today’s lesson… a new word to add to my vocabulary… Proem. I looked it up and officially it means “a preface, preamble, or brief introduction, as to a book or other work,” but I like regular contributor Amy Pence’s use better. “A combination of prose and poem.” Good, right? Now on with the review!
For free and without having to worry if you want to leave early (or stay naked, for that matter), you can watch Craig Morgan Teicher read his stories and fables from Cradle Book on his website (http://www.craigmorganteicher.com) . He reads his short prose pieces from his favorite chair at home surrounded by the paraphernalia of young parenthood. He won’t be offended if you decide to hit stop, “because how am I going to know? It’s the Internet and it’s private.” You can attend his informal reading, but I wouldn’t recommend it. So come back from that hyperlink madness and stay with me.
What’s refreshing about this volume of tales is they are pleasingly technology-free fables for adults. He does not call them prose poems and they are classified as fiction, yet the book made Dan Chiasson‘s list of the Eleven Best Poetry Books of 2010 in The New Yorker (don’t click on that one either, not yet…).
The proems (perhaps more prose than poetry) exist in a twilit Middle-Earthian space where groaning cows are healed by the weaver’s daughter, a talking tree stump devours a monk, and a pair of birds dramatize the very human power to incite fear and suspicion in and of others. Reading each one-to-two page piece in Teicher’s clear, wry style is like looking through water to see a rocky and luminous creek bed. Here is “The Dust”:
It is well known though little discussed that the dust, which collects in balls in corners, under beds and chairs, and in closets, is in fact alive. True, it is sedentary, silent, and anything but lively, but it has its own kind of life nonetheless.
Like so much else that we willingly forget with age, the life of the dust is the secret province of children, who often care for particular clumps as pets. Of course, the dust, which will outlive all our future generations, adaptable as it is, really has no preference for, nor loyalty to, anyone. It is simply waiting for us to join it.
Though many contain a mordant humor—and some merely tease us with unanswerable questions—the pieces are never cynical. The fables trace our mythic and unconscious lives with curious spins: “what you have to fear is not in the woods,” Teicher writes in “Raised by Wolves.”
His proems also gently probe the truths we seldom want to face: In “The Voices,” the speaker toys with his own apathy in the face of world crisis. In “Raised by Wolves” the boy must suffer his father’s “senseless midnight rages,” but comes to discover that “those whom he most feared, and those whom he tried to make most afraid, were the ones whose love he most deeply needed.” In “The Room,” a man encounters his own unknowability, as too the room he thought he had known ceaselessly revises around him.
These are not morality or amorality tales; Teicher seems to have plucked them from a culture that hungers for answers, but may have forgotten the questions. Finally, Cradle Book (and the title comes clear, doesn’t it?) reminds us that what links us together is not the hyper-real or the virtual, but the stories we tell ourselves (and our children) about the world, and about humanity.
I leave you with one last stanza, the book’s penultimate: “I am what the sun shows, but what you won’t show the sun, says the shadow. Yet I am gone at night. Time is what takes away whatever you understand” (From “Time”). Time, and perhaps, distance.
– Amy Pence, Regular Contributor