A couple of years ago I spent a few weeks with Google “translating” some Borges sonnets with the intention of completing all 136 of them (four are here). Before abandoning the project I converted a few of these quite classical sonnets into prose poems, one upshot of which was becoming more attentive to how the transition from poem to prose-poem does or doesn’t make itself apparent in the final product. In his introduction to his prose version of the Divine Comedy, Charles Eliot Norton describes how a reader’s “imagination may mould the prose as it moulded the verse”, and (though it may not be exactly what he meant) this phrase describes quite closely how even after the Borges sonnets became prose I continued to look for and experience and implement the enjambment of the original poems (and their translations) as a series of healed or concealed breaks in the prose line. This idea that generic transgression can somehow be inscribed in absentia led in a roundabout way to Within Habit. (This playing around with Borges was also, in part, why I used for the cover of the pamphlet one of Simon Hantai’s “Etudes”, which I was thinking about a lot while assembling the poems — in the process of being made those paintings changed state from painting to sculpture and back again, and it is this process of transition which creates the content of the piece almost as a by-product.) I had a few incomplete, lineated poems which I decided to put into justified banks of prose, but since nobody would have these original texts I included a vertical line indicating where the line-break had occurred in this previous incarnation. I then folded in large amounts of prose from the internet—from news websites, Wikipedia, essays and articles on a diverse range of subjects—and subjected that prose to this process of marked division. By that point these divisions were being implemented as much to indicate where one source-text stopped and another began, or for purely visual purposes, or simply at random, as to act as a visual marker of where enjambment occurs elsewhere. I ended up with a 20-poem sequence, and this is the last of them.
from WITHIN HABIT
Oli Hazzard‘s first book, Between Two Windows, was published by Carcanet in 2012. It won the Michael Murphy Prize for a first collection and an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and was a book of the year in the Financial Times, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. A pamphlet of prose poems, Within Habit, was published by Test Centre earlier this year. He is currently a DPhil candidate at Wolfson College, Oxford, where he’s writing his thesis on John Ashbery.