There is just something about the prose and lyric pieces of Sheryda Warrener’s first trade poetry collection, Hard Feelings (Montreal QC: Snare Books, 2010)—something sharp, mature and unusual in places. Working predominantly in sentences, Warrener’s Hard Feelings includes poems that understand they are poems first, and whatever else second, writing the narrative line as well as any poem by such as Sarah Manguso or Rachel Zucker.
Some of the pieces here could read just as easily as little narratives, tiny short stories, extending the bend between lyric poem, prose poem and short short story. Even the three title pieces, each called “Hard Feelings,” that weave through the first section, “Ordinary & Remarkable,” that strike out from the heartbreak of tiny realizations that ripple endlessly out, creating waves that crush everything.
Beth Ralston understood something about grade eleven theatre we didn’t. While the rest of us acted out scenes where we caught lovers in bed with other lovers, or wanted to commit suicide, or visited our mother who was in a coma at the hospital, Beth Ralston got up on stage and buttered a piece of bread. It didn’t take us long to understand that the bread knife she was using to calmly spread the butter to the very edges of that whole wheat slice was the knife she would use to kill her husband. All she did was butter the bread for 15 minutes. We knew he deserved it. at the end, we could tell by the way Mr. Welbourne clapped he was thankful at least one student out of twenty finally got it. The next week I went up there and pretended to be a woman in jail who had been wrongly convicted for murder. My motivation had something to do with a child on the outside who needed me. I got angrier and angrier, eating cold eggs and potatoes with my hands, until I felt there was nothing left except to slam the plate of food against the back wall. With the eggs sliding down in a stinking mess, I called “Scene!” thinking I’d pushed it far enough. Mr. Welbourne spoke out from the audience: “What would she have done in the moments after the tray hit?” and I knew then it wasn’t enough at all. Two or three dark beats separated me from good theatre. I’d missed it.
Part of the strength of this book is in the structural ease, the different systems she works through four sections, whether poems built for the line, the space or the breath. What makes these poems, these little narratives, these anti-stories, is their stagger, their stammer and just how damned tight they are, even in their perceived looseness. It makes me wonder what she might do with a small collection of tiny stories, shifting the possibilities of her own lines, her own spaces?