In Shorter Prose, poet M. Sarki (yeah, that one; many of you know him) draws on small town life in Tawas City and East Tawas, Michigan, and memories of mid-twentieth century, small town life amid characters who seem to know everyone, in the sense that ‘everyone’ means ‘each other.’ Having, myself, grown up in a village near a small town where we were all bussed off to school, the stories provoke a similar love/hate nostalgia for that simpler life and that simpler period. That is not to say that the stories in Shorter Prose are historical fiction—they’re not—it is to say that memories reside with us no matter how we might try to shake them or how far from our origins we might travel.
In Ponzil, the Pistolero, and His Comedy of Combustion, Ponzil, the narrator, equates being ‘stupid,’ which he hears he is from townspeople and his father, with being ‘thin skinned,’ which was presumably avowed by the doctor who delivered him. Told at what feels a breakneck pace, Ponzil confuses facts from his past, cites important philosophers, and following an incident in a bar, reference to two notorious murderers, and the apposition in the title, this reader began to suspect something sinister, ominous—but I wouldn’t want to provide a spoiler, and I definitely wouldn’t want to affirm the consequent.
With A Different World than Olive Listed, a boy’s memories of being bullied and sense of isolation lead to other relationships as memorable, and in Max Lane, memories of a small town immigrant, a memory not uncommon to those of us of a certain age and rural origin, ignite our own memories of those odd characters from our youth—that old man and woman with their accents and still-alien traits, their otherworldliness, their otherness.
Each of these pieces (I hesitate using ‘stories’) deal with memories, the ways memories endure. I’m reluctant to call them stories, in that they seem more than that—they are stories, but they’re successful stories because of the Voice with which they’re told. They work at the level of narration. It’s exactly that Voice which prevents they’re being told another way. In the best writing, Milton’s right words, in the right order are part and parcel of that sense of voice we readers expect…that sense of right words in the right order often best accomplished by a poet.4.5 stars, rounded up, not only for the writing, but in anticipation of the 5 I’ll be able to give to More Shorter Prose when it appears.