In The Floating Bridge, David Shumate vanquishes once and for all the notion that the prose poem is somehow inherently ‘not a real poem.’ This collection exhibits a sustained level of innate lyricism and imagism rarely seen even in conventional lyric free verse. They are densely concentrated distillations of minute moments in time, space, and psychology, volatile, possibly even explosive. Unfailingly, the little prose jewels in The Floating Bridge exhibit the most fundamental property of fine poetry: each whole is many times greater than the sum of its parts.
Each poem is a journey through Shumate’s magical—but decidedly concrete—dreamscape. It is rarely a solitary journey. The magic lies not simply in his re-imagining the world on the other side of the mirror, but in others’ willingness to cohabit his transverse universe. With relish, a lover embraces mannequinism (“Mannequins”). A magician swaps biospheres with his live prop to sample life from inside the hat: “It’s a comfortable life. Aristocratic by some standards,” disturbed only occasionally when he (the rabbit) “reaches in, grabs me by the scruff of the neck, and yanks me out.” The lapin audience goes wild (“Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat”). In “Fresh Fish,” the narrator buys a—you can guess—for dinner, but he admits, “…these days I become easily confused. And so I take the wrong bus and end up at the office instead of my kitchen.” Elsewhere, that might have been the end of it, but in Shumate’s vision, every fish has its day. While the mackerel sizzles on“the red-hot center of my desk,” his co-workers and even his boss arrive to participate in the minor culinary miracle.
The Floating Bridge is at its heart a collection of minute landscapes: the next village,the Jewish ghetto, the bible belt, the Kissing Institute, a Chinese restaurant, Babylon, Nirvana, purgatory, the private homes of both Death and Dali, and the manifold manifestations of Paris (both without and within). In their clarity and luster, precision and fragmentation, these vignettes recall the soul-ringing imagery of Basho, another chronicler of journeys. And like the haiku of that narrow road, Shumate’s poems demand an engaged and participatory reader. As much as happens in each compact line, much more happens between them. In order to ‘get’ these poems, one must be ready to enter actively into them, to enable their emergence, to become like one of Shumate’s lost gods: “Assembling the lightning. Manufacturing the wind. Hoisting the moon into the sky. Sending the rains down on time.”
Shumate’s sentences are a series of stepping stones stretching across a river, each one is dry and safe itself, but islanded by swirling vortices of possibility. And the breach between each stone is far too wide to span with an easy step. The crossing will demand one—or perhaps several—leaps of… something. Faith. Imagination. Maybe even hope. Enjoy the journey. Don’t forget to stretch before you begin.
Caron Andregg is Editor-in-Chief of Cider Press Review