Reviewed: Prose. Poems. A novel. by Jamie Iredell

Orange Alert Press, 2009, 108 p.
Review by Tobias Carroll

Title explains form in Jamie Iredell’s Prose. Poems. A novel. It’s a bold choice, and one that seems to suggest a sort of literary gamesmanship, a salvo in the form-versus-content battle, delivered in favor of the former. That the book opens with a epigraph from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, followed shortly by the author describing himself as “[a] whiskered goon at a notepad” should indicate otherwise. Through a series of brief, interconnected prose poems, Iredell tells the story of the first few decades of a young man’s life. The setting moves from California to Nevada to Georgia, encompassing relationships and friendships, births and deaths, remote cabins and dive bars. Each section stands on its own (the book’s three parts initially appeared as chapbooks), though there’s a clear progression as the narrator makes his way from childhood through a series of advanced degrees and personal relationships.

While the title suggests fiction, there’s a certain ambiguity to these pages — the “I” of Prose. Poems. has a similar biography to the author, and there’s one moment in which the narrator shows already-written pages to one of the characters, years after the events recounted have taken place. It lends a certain tension to the experience of reading — the title, after all, isn’t Prose. Poems. A memoir., but at the same time, these pages have a casual authenticity to them. Whether it’s his own life or one wholly imagined, Iredell’s skill at life distillation is impressive.

What shouldn’t be lost among mentions of the craft and subtle structuring on display is that Iredell’s book is a deeply pleasurable read. Each prose poem is self-contained, a story told in a way to conjure some combination of nostalgia, regret, or elation. Early in the book, Iredell volleys out this sentence: “We guzzled Zimas at a condo in Salinas.” It’s weirdly perfect, both in its rhythms and in its ability to evoke a particular moment in time and space. Like the music of Les Savy Fav or Golden Triangle, it’s art made by people who can argue theory all day but understand the value of bliss and release. And at the end of the night, Prose. Poems. A novel. stakes out its own unique space — finding that blissful overlap between beatific prose craftsmanship and a post-Cometbus generation of punk rock memoirists.