Before opening Shya Scanlon’s In This Alone Impulse, the cover art is already setting the tone for his trapeze act with all the same tools any writer can find. It’s just that Scanlon has a certain ear, an instinct.
The cover is minimalistic – a gray background interrupted only by the title in red at the top left, Scanlon’s name in white at bottom left, and, just off-center, what is left of a broken pencil lead, along with a fast mark, hectic, rushed, something incomplete but with a breaking power. Something impulsive.
Inside are prose poems, each seven lines in length. With the first, “A Bargain,” Scanlon puts his style on the table for the reader to consider, easing him into the broken logic of language, of theme and tone, that will tie this book in a spider’s web, both beautiful and strong. Here is the writer offering us a “bargain” on something brand new in the canon of prose poetry.
“I have a house. I have a house. It is not my house that I have. It is not my house, anymore…A have now house about me anymore.”
The narrator could be trying to sell you the house, a good deal, a bargain. The narrator might just as well be talking about himself. But one thing is certain – we are in different hands, a writer taking a bold chance at the “word level.”
The reader may not at once adjust to Scanlon’s syntactic innovation. The risk is a practice in building trust, coming to know this author’s voice so the stories can be told in a way that only he could tell them.
A key thing found early on is the use of the second-person point of view. Throughout much of the book, with a handful of exceptions, this is employed. But not exclusively.
In stories such as “Six miles south” the former John Hawkes Fiction Prize winner also speaks of “we” and “I” within the same story, grouping them with the second-person “you.” In this story that decision gives the piece the feel of a letter, something shared among good friends or current enemies, those close conversations found only among people with knowledge of one another’s pain, happiness, hope.
In “Six miles south” these three points of view are wed and rightly so as there is a sadness of tone beneath the sharing, one of learning and of growth – all the ingredients of any close relationship.
“You said something new, and let me learn, and I passed this along, and passed it wider, a broken kind of wideness, a small and splintered thing. We sat together and watched it spread…”
But these are some of the technical aspects within this book and, though important, are almost secondary to the work as a whole. Brian Evenson says of IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE: “…there’s really nothing else out there like it.” It’s as true a thing said of a book in a long while. Whether it is with a surreal piece, such as “Skeleton clock” (I went into outer space this morning.) or a piece about longing and self-worth as with “Imagine next” (Erin, sugar biscuit, you took me in like you have now taken in a dog.) Scanlon is pushing an emotion off the page. And even in this, he moves easily from one form to another such as the straight-forward narrative approach in “Daresies: Backsies” or the linguistically experimental dialogue of “A neighboring insert.”
The best part of the trapeze act? The fact that never is the core of this book lost amid these risks and experimentation. Scanlon achieves across 59 prose poems not as much a linked storyline as a consistent feeling of something unmentioned but known to us all, the inner voices of our secret lives.