Critical Thought: Cake

“Our hero came from Nowhere—he wasn’t going Anywhere and got kicked off Somewhere.” This caption from a Buster Keaton film describes the brave but doomed creatures trapped inside the boxes of my prose poems. I never know who is going in there for me (he? she? it) or who I’m going to find hiding in there when I get inside. Prose poems feel like three-dimensional spaces, like the inside of an egg or a fortune cookie or a cake, for example, but of course they’re really flat like newspaper cartoon boxes with four sides. I call them artless comix. When I write poetry with lines I can easily stiffen up and get self-conscious. When I write regular fiction that goes on for pages it’s hard not to feel embarrassed about all the boredom I’m creating. But the prose poem feels just right. It lets me do anything, it’s always a surprise, and it’s over before anyone has time to yawn. Or so I hope.

Suggested reading: Vern Rutsala’s Paragraphs (Wesleyan University Press, 1978)

Maura Stanton's prose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ecotone, Denver Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, New Ohio Review, Salamander, Pool, Poetry East, Alimentum, Bateau and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry (White Pine Press, 2008). She teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Birthday Cake

She’s been crouched in here a long time, wearing her pasties and her G-string, waiting for the signal to jump out of the cake. She’s cramped and tired and worried that she’ll forget the special song she’s suppose to sing. And she’s hungry! She keeps reaching up for handfuls of sweet cake, stuffing it into her mouth. Sounds outside the cake are muffled, but she can hear the roar of laughter whenever somebody tells a smutty joke. She imagines them all sitting around the table, getting drunk. Occasionally the cake trembles when somebody sticks their finger into the thick frosting for a lick, or pulls off one of the sugar roses. What if they forget she’s in here and start slicing the cake with a big knife? They might cut her head off! She’d better get out of here. She wipes the crumbs off her lips. She flexes the muscles in her calves, and springs up through layers and layers of white and chocolate. She flings out her arms. Happy Birthday! But they’ve all gone into the other room to watch dirty movies.

by Maura Stanton