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Monday, January 11, 2010

Jamie Iredell bends his prose poems into a novelistic arc

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The narrator of Jamie Iredell's Prose. Poems. A Novel. is named Larry, but no one ever calls him that. His co-worker Sharon calls him a "fucking son of a bitch" – a more fitting moniker despite its lack of brevity. In Iredell's brief approximation of a novel, Larry grows up in California drinking cheap swill with his high school buddies, moves on to Reno to shoot jackbunnies in the desert night, and eventually lands in Atlanta to spend his nights at the Highlander, where "sometimes the cocaine came with actual cocaine crushed up in it."

The three acts come from Iredell's previously published chapbooks, Before I Moved to Nevada, When I Moved to Nevada and Atlanta. It's tempting to call Prose. Poems. A Novel. a poetry collection. Each page contains a block of text about the right size for a poem and each of the brief missives is a self-contained vignette, a miniature vision of fuck-ups and ne'er-do-wells. But Larry's arc through life is unmistakably novelistic and, as a result, Iredell succeeds in bending genres the way his humorous title suggests.

The most common mistake in drug fiction is the confusion of substance abuse for the substance of a story. Simply detailing what drugs were taken when and with whom doesn't amount to much, even if Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis have padded a few novels with it. Despite the trail of powdery, postage stamp-sized bags and glistening empty bottles scattered throughout his book, Iredell doesn't depend on drugs to tell the story.

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(Photo Courtesy Orange Alert Press)

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