Machine Journey, Richard DoyleThe jacket is mustard in colour with a rectangular monochrome photograph placed in the middle showing women working on old computing equipment, perhaps at Bletchley Park. The title is in large black lower case, centred one word per line in the top third of the mustard area. The author's name is right justified in small black lower case below the photograph.

Amazon, 2022      £5.00

When is prose a poem? And does it matter?

Machine Journey is Doyle’s second foray into self-publishing via Amazon. Unlike his first pamphlet of poems, this publication comprises both ‘poems and flash fictions’. I began by trying to work out which was which. In the age of the prose poem, this can be challenging.

Two of the pieces here are formatted in left-justified short lines, so I take those to be poems.

The other eighteen look more like flash fiction, although a poem can look like almost anything now. And yet the prose pieces here look remarkably similar. The margins are all the same (a prose poem can be fat or thin), and the lines are all similarly double spaced.

But maybe a poem can’t be defined by form (since nobody can agree what that form might be). Perhaps a poem is more a way of reading, a mode of expectation. When we read prose, we expect shortbread, solid, tasty and satisfying. For poetry, we prefer mille feuille. Layers.

And if you expect layers, you look for them. So that’s what I did. I found more layers in the prose pieces here than at first met the eye, enough to allow me to read ‘Collision with a Greenberg’ as a poem with a sense of humour and delight in language. And it’s an eco-poem too, a comment on the way things are going. Because in the world of this 14-line text, ships navigate their way on land. The danger is not icebergs. The danger is the rare occasion when the vessel encounters trees on a ‘greenberg’:

The landship Discovery had been travelling at twenty rundleboot, its multicoloured sails blooming like sugarhoarders in the sunshine.

There’s a world of layered suggestion in that one sentence above, and I love the choice of adjective in ‘blooming’. It’s a lot of fun into the bargain (‘rundleboot’!).

All the same, I think the texts in Machine Journey could be more advantageously presented. The double spacing makes them look bland (they’re more interesting than they look).

Look more closely and you find ‘Encounter with the Angel’ packs a punch out of all proportion to its length, while ‘The Trouble with Spaceships’ has a ball with geometry.

Helena Nelson