Cassandra Atherton is an award-winning writer. She was a Visiting Scholar in English at Harvard University in 2016 and a Visiting Fellow in Literature at Sophia University, Tokyo, in 2014. She has published 17 critical and creative books (with three more in progress) and over the last three years has been invited to edit six special editions of leading refereed journals. Cassandra has been a successful recipient of more than 15 national and international research grants and teaching awards including, most recently a VicArts grant and an Australia Council grant. She is the current poetry editor of Westerly magazine.

Paul Hetherington is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has published and/or edited 27 books, including 13 full-length poetry collections and nine chapbooks. Among these are Moonlight on oleander: prose poems (UWAP, 2018) and Palace of memory (RWP, 2019). He won the 2014 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards (poetry) and undertook an Australia Council for the Arts Literature Board Residency at the BR Whiting Studio in Rome in 2015-16. He was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize in the 2017 New South Wales Premier’s Awards. He is Professor of Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI), and one of the founding editors of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations.

Language and agency in ‘Dwellings’

This article explores ways in which our collaborative work of fiction, ‘Dwellings’ – also published in this issue of Axon – uses Luce Irigaray’s assertion of the importance of speech as a starting point to explore the experiences of young women navigating the perils of gender relations within patriarchy. The work employs poetic prose juxtaposed with truncated prose fragments to create overlapping stories that comment analogically and obliquely on one another. The intersecting narrative strands reveal the limited power accorded to female adolescents and children in a patriarchal society, even as they attempt to subvert and defy patriarchy’s encompassing social and moral structures. The work comments on the importance of language in achieving agency and on ways in which young women may construct or articulate new and alternative realities.

Keywords: Inhabiting language – patriarchy – speaking – adolescence – agency

The Ordinary and the Unreal

American and Australian prose poetry

The prose poem, Silliman notes, is ‘perfect for hallucinated, fantastic and dreamlike contents, for pieces with multiple locales and times squeezed into few words’ (1989: 81). This, he argues, is because the quotidian nature of prose is often unexpectedly subverted by encounters with the magnificent. This paper uses Silliman’s assertion as a starting point to discuss the way in which the American tradition of surrealist prose poetry employs recurring demotic elements – such as dalliance and anecdotes – to introduce the extraordinary. This, in turn, creates a comic or absurdist dimension in such works, underscoring one of the paradoxes at the heart of the prose poetry form. We argue that the coupling of the quotidian with the surreal in prose poetry creates and exploits a comic tension, focusing the reader on the impossibility of objectivity and adding a piquant playfulness to the serious issues such poems canvass. This paper will discuss prose poems by American prose poets Russell Edson and Charles Simic. It will also briefly analyse three Australian prose poems. These works indicate that surrealist prose poetry in Australia tends to be focused on a fusing of the laconic with the savage in its in its appeal to humour.

The Prose Poem as Igel

A Reading of Fragmentation and Closure in Prose Poetry

This paper takes up Nikki Santilli’s lament about the scarcity of scholarship on the prose poem in English to analyse two key features of prose poetry: fragmentation and closure. This paper argues that the prose poem’s visual containment within the paragraph form promises a complete narrative while simultaneously subverting this visual cue by offering, instead, gaps and spaces. Such apertures render the prose poem a largely fragmentary form that relies on metonymic metamorphoses to connect to a larger, unnamed frame of reference.  In this way, the prose poem is both complete and yet searching for completeness, closed and lacking closure.

The prose poem’s reaching outwards to embrace a larger, absent whole connects this literary form to Friedrich Schlegel’s ‘Athenaeum Fragment 206’ and to the Romantic critical fragment more generally. ‘Athenaeum Fragment 206’ has provided this paper with its title, as a metaphorical reading of Schlegel’s igel, or hedgehog, as fragment ‘implies the existence of [a form that suggests] what is outside itself’ (Rosen 1995: 48). The final section of this paper, analyses two prose poems from the University of Canberra’s International Poetry Studies Institute’s Prose Poetry Project. These works by Jen Webb and Carrie Etter are read for their appeal to metonymy in their exploration of time passing and ultimately, death. They demonstrate that prose poetry is both fragmented and open ended in ways very different from lineated poems.