In this his eighth collection of poetry (and fifth with Four Way Books), Prufer’s career-spanning talent for estranging the familiar—and also for recording the unthinkable with eerie directness—recurs, enhanced and transformed by the collection’s meta-level attention to the role of fiction in our civic lives. Prufer describes, often through personae, a near future, tracing there the political gambit of Fake News and the role of the imagination in our self-understanding (whether it’s cogent or delusional). Via both satire and direct address (to the point of reader-squeamishness), Prufer aims to understand the ugly-casual atmosphere of our often racialized, pervasive distrust. The Art of Fiction fundamentally understands that fictions are deployed to divide us, and they work: they get under our skin. Prufer powerfully explores the roles of imagination and art in how we explain ourselves to ourselves.
“And He Will Guide My Craft”
that is not a burning building it is a bonfire on the beach
and those are not soldiers they are fishermen
I am rowing us closer you will see
how those are not guns but fishing poles
a star is not a fighter plane
an island is not an aircraft carrier
and can you see the fishermen cooking their catch in the fire
I am rowing us closer
do you hear their laughter on the wind
yes it sounds like people crying but it is not
do you hear the fire popping yes it sounds like pistols
taking prisoners to the afterlife but it is not
I have always been with you
these are my hands rowing your boat
we shouldn’t be on open water when the sun rises
we will dock here this is a peaceful island
you can rest you can eat
that is not smoke it is mist wrapping the cliffs
while the fishermen tend their fires
those are not bodies they are people sleeping
we will leave our boat behind when I say run
we will run as fast as we can across the sand
don’t look back you will disappear into the woods
and I will disappear into your mind
Prufer’s sensitive, strange, and brilliant poems explore darkness and pain with originality and verve… Read the full review here.
A gothic extravaganza featuring alligators, avalanches and medical devices left inside bodies, delivered largely in long, musical free verse lines. Poetry at full boil, poured with deliberate abandon.
…Prufer conveys images in motion, in flux, not transformed through his lens but spied in the process of change, a lens not after that of photography but of cinema. If The Art of Fiction were a film, action would be more than direction. The camera would move with deliberate foci, the scenes with subtle match cuts. The music would never swell nor fade beneath our range. All lighting would be natural, though at times it might encourage us to turn our heads or squint. The mise-en-scène would teach us story. When the text gives language to the inhuman—a drone, a trough of poisoned hog feed, a leopard, a bottle of vodka, the “ever-expanding blackness” of a room—their words would come to us through soft focus or relief. And everything else would register cinema verité, bold and crisp like a document, handheld or rendered over the shoulder, real in ways that cause us to forget we are watching something made, real in ways that show both truth and fiction and make us wonder what we’re doing if we’re sitting there in the dark looking only for differences…
Prufer writes with deceptive calmness. No other poet in the U.S. so effectively employs unembellished language in the service of wildly inventive renderings as he does, and How He Loved Them, his seventh collection, is a confessional, hallucinatory warning about the future we are constructing….
Prufer considers the complex relationship between beauty and violence in his remarkable seventh collection of poetry, tracing the barely perceptible ways that industrial modernity ‘gilds us until we glitter.’ . . . An accomplished, highly nuanced inquiry into spectacle and spectatorship.