Flash Points: Steph Post

FlashPoints3

Welcome to Flash Points. As I warned you yesterday, two stories embedded themselves in my brain. I just can’t choooooose! I moaned to my friend Allison Garcia, who answered patiently, “Then do both!” Such a clever girl, that one. So here we go — for the first time ever, a critique of a second marvelous bit of writing from the most recent round of flash. 

Prompt: Queen Victoria political cartoon

Word limit:  140 – 160 words

Today’s chosen flash piece:  Never Enoughby Steph Post

No, it’s not enough.

I want all the marbles; I want all the fish in the sea. I want to dance on their graves and yours and mine, too, and throw pennies on the coffins and tear my hair and yowl up at the moon.

It’s not enough, not enough, not enough.

I want glaciers, I want continents, I want tribes. I want the blank spaces on the map, empty maws roaring with secrets, impenetrable, tamed only by my footsteps.

I want effigies. And I want them to burn.

I want languages and revolutions, underground cities and elixirs of immortality.

I want to reign in a comet.

Don’t proffer me your crowns; I want to wear headdresses of stardust. Don’t grovel with your treaties; I want to devour whole galaxies.

Can’t you see? Don’t you know? It’s not enough, not enough.

It will never be enough. For me.

What works

“Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”

“Because it’s there.” 

–ascribed to George Mallory, mountaineer, 1886 – 1924

“Mine, mine, mine.” 

–every toddler everywhere

This piece has haunted me from first reading. It’s far from a “typical” flash piece; half poem, half story, its rhythms pound in your head and won’t leave you alone, and you find yourself coming back to read it again…. and again….  Walk with me through its dark melodies for a moment, won’t you?

With a prose poem such as this one, it’s hard to know whether to begin with structure or content, so tightly intertwined as they are. Guess I’ll just pick content and dive in, eh?  Like Sarah Cain’s story from yesterday, this piece stands alone; we don’t need to see the prompt or grasp the historical complexities of the Victorian era to follow it. I mention this point again because there’s often the temptation to make the story or twist an inside joke between the writer and the other contest participants. Such a joke is great fun, of course!! but it makes for a very different sort of story in the end.

Content-wise, this piece starts off with what we’ll soon recognize as its refrain, No, it’s not enough. This line is SO clever — I don’t know a single reader bold enough to stop reading there. What’s not enough??? We have to know. It’s a brilliant first sentence, answering an offstage question and introducing one of its own. So great.

But from there the story flings itself into a bit of a jumbled mess, with conflicting images of children’s marble games, fishing, death, grief, and wolves battling for attention. This second sentence is so risky, because as yet it’s not anything we can make sense of. On the surface there’s no unifying factor or common theme. Nor does it seem to be moving in any particular direction. It’s a mess, loud, cacophonous, like letting preschoolers into a room filled with cymbals. I love risk-taking in writing. Gamble big, win big, right? Or if you crash, what a way to go. 🙂 In “Never Enough,” for me the risk pays off. Six discordant images, yes, but they are tightly written and move fast, and before we know it, we’re at the second refrain.

It’s not enough, not enough, not enough.

The refrain would, you’d think, bring the story to an abrupt stop. But because it follows chaos, its rhythm and repetition feel gentle, soothing. We haven’t made sense of the piece yet, but we’re back on familiar ground, back to that original question, What’s not enough?? and we have to read on. And here’s where Steph’s structure work really shines, because she uses structure itself, the poetic refrain, to create and continue the story’s tension. Tension is crucial; who wants to read a flat, aimless bunch of words? As readers we want to go somewhere, or feel something, or think something, or experience something new. Steph has artfully offered us a mouthful already: a pressing question framing disturbing images. I have to keep reading.

The question is answered in the center section, which is where we find the story’s heart.

I want glaciers, I want continents, I want tribes. I want the blank spaces on the map, empty maws roaring with secrets, impenetrable, tamed only by my footsteps.

In this respect “Never Enough” eases into a traditional flash fiction format (intro, body, conclusion), and it offers us some breathing room by stepping away from the impassioned fury of the opening to explain what’s going on. References to wanting continents, tribes, and blank spaces on the map speak of a hunger we recognize: Manifest Destiny, as it were, or the universal ravenous, imperial cry. Ahhhh, we say. Now we know who’s talking. It’s a greedy emperor, right? Except it’s not.

Don’t proffer me your crowns; I want to wear headdresses of stardust. Don’t grovel with your treaties; I want to devour whole galaxies.

Okay, what???? Is this like Genghis Khan in space? Steph does not allow us to fly too quickly through the story as we do through so many others, whathappenswhathappenswhathappens. Shhhh, she says. Slow down. Step back. Read it again. Her pace is tightly controlled, intentional.

The body of the piece, we notice, forms its own arrogant frame. “I want” repeats four times, greedily echoing the introduction. It reads like a list of demands, the demands of a conqueror. 

I want effigies. And I want them to burn. 

Don’t grovel with your treaties

The reader is the conquered. Our capitulation is assumed. Now that’s arrogance painted in garish, un-ignorable colors. 

From the second, internal I want refrain, Steph then returns to the opening refrain.

Can’t you see? Don’t you know? It’s not enough, not enough.

It will never be enough. For me.

It’s not the cry of a single emperor; it’s the anthem of all emperors. It’s Victoria, Napoleon, Genghis, Alexander, Montezuma, a thousand names besides these, lost to time but chanting in unison: I want more. Whatever I have, isn’t enough. And this may be what I love best about this piece:

It will never be enough. 

The emperors’ lust for power cannot be satiated. “Never Enough” is not a song of victory; it’s a dirge. Not triumph: despair. Steph isn’t just telling the story of a ruler’s rise to power; she has added depth by proposing that one thing (global domination) isn’t, in the end, what it seems. What we see is not what we get. 

There’s so much going on in this piece. I’ve touched on structure and content, but as a prose poem, we have the added element of sound, which I didn’t get to but deserves a post of its own. This story is unique. It’s risky. It’s beautiful, haunting. It’s terrible and tragic, angry, thirsty, and desperate. This story is the sort that devours your soul and doesn’t let you be.

You can’t read a piece like this just once. Or twice. You have to keep reading it, and even then

 It will never be enough. For me.

Thank you, Steph, for sharing this extraordinary piece of work. 

What do you think?

As I’ve said, this piece is different. Risky. Have you ever written a risky piece? What did you risk, and how did it work out for you? Would you do it again? What risks have you seen other writers take, that you admire?

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7 thoughts on “Flash Points: Steph Post

  1. This was also one of my favorites. I absolutely love the use of language, the delicious sounds, the wondrous combinations. Thanks for the excellent analysis, Ms. Dragoness!

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