How many poets can you think of who can write fiction? I don't mean DO write fiction--there are plenty of those. CAN. As in, are actually good at narrative. Ed's a very good fiction-writing poet, actually (and Ed, I read your new story like two weeks ago and still haven't written you about it, but it's good); Denis Johnson was a good poet before he went whole hog for fiction and drama. But most poet fiction is not very good, as fiction. It is often excellent on the sentence level, and sometimes the paragraph level. But most poets don't seem to know how to keep their mind a few pages ahead. They're in the moment, at the expense of the past and the future.
Poet Alice Fulton is a colleague of mine, and she just published her first collection of stories, The Nightingales of Troy. I can't tell you how surprised and delighted I was to discover how good it is. We talked about the book the other day in an interview for the Writers At Cornell Blog. The stories are linked, following four generations of a family in Troy, New York; the prose is intricate and baroquely comic, packed with all manner of period detail. (Were you aware that there was once such a thing as Bayer Heroin Powder?) In a way, this book reads like poet fiction; the power in Fulton's prose is in its self-contained richness. But the stories are real stories, and together they form a larger story that is not quite a novel. Recommended.
(Also, for a sobering look at present-day Troy, check out this piece on Brenda Ann Kenneally's "Upstate Girls" photoessay, with slideshow. And speaking of poets--congratulations to Mark Doty for winning the National Book Award for poetry--couldn't have happened to a better guy.)