The Floating Bridge, David Shumate’s second collection of prose poems, transports its readers over the chasm between the mundane and the enchanted. We traverse one bridge and find ourselves eavesdropping on Gertrude Stein and her gardener. We take the night bus to Gomorrah to have a look around. Halfway across, each bridge vanishes beneath our feet. Our world shifts. The commonplace begins to glow. We turn the page. Another bridge awaits.
Even the most enthusiastic partisans of the form will tell you that good prose poems are nearly as rare as good sonnets, the manatee, or Republicans with a social conscience, and thus the canny and compelling prose poems of David Shumate's The Floating Bridge are especially welcome. The poems are filled with surprising imaginative reckonings, wit that never devolves into mere whimsy, and an underlying sense of pathos that recalls the work of some of the great European masters of the form-figures like Zbigniew Herbert and Jean Follain. The Floating Bridge is a collection to savor and return to.
This is the best, most spectacular book of prose poetry to be published in years. The poems are woven from a natural voice that uses daily human knowledge and experience to paint timeless portraits that reverberate with imagination and a trust in simple language. The result is a book that emerges from the growing self-consciousness of the prose poem to show us how a straight-ahead vision carries the most weight.
David Shumate's devotion to the prose poem is persuasive evidence of its movement in from the margins (or perhaps of poetry's movement out to the margins). High Water Mark: Prose Poems reads like the work of a conversational free-verse poet who has decided that line breaks are a needless vestigial reflex. His funny, tender little allegories are how Carl Dennis or Billy Collins might write if the Return keys fell off their laptops.
Vanquishes once and for all the notion that the prose poem is somehow inherently 'not a real poem.' Exhibits a sustained level of innate lyricism and imagism rarely seen even in conventional lyric free verse. Unfailingly, the little prose jewels in 'The Floating Bridge' exhibit the most fundamental property of fine poems: each whole is many times greater than the sum of its parts.
Shumate's collection consists of over 50 gems . . . each one loaded with the living essence that hovers just beyond rationality's gate. [He] is a master of this forthright form. His book is a key to the room where dreams are stored.
David Shumate is the author of The Floating Bridge and High Water Mark, winner of the 2003 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared widely in literary journals and has been anthologized in Good Poems for Hard Times, The Best American Poetry and The Writer’s Almanac. Shumate is poet-in-residence at Marian University and lives in Zionsville, Indiana.