The True Story of Cowboy and Ingénue

The True Story of Cowboy and Ingénue

(Cinnamon Press/Liquorice Fish 2018)

Moniza Alvi:

The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue crosses boundaries, including those of sexual identity, cultures and  language. There’s eroticism and adventure here, as well as conflict and sharp pain. Maria Jastrzębska excels at  the ‘borderline’ form of the prose poem and with these linked pieces it’s as if she presents us with an epic in a  small space. To read it is to be challenged as well as enchanted.’

Gregory Woods:

A grittily tender romance that sparks a rare kind of pleasure: the lush austerity of its language has you both sumptuously satisfied and yet longing for more.

Janet Sutherland :

The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingenue will remain with you long after you’ve read the final page. Set out as prologue, first, second and final parts the reader is guided through a sequence of juxtaposed prose poems. There is a central love story between Cowboy Hat and Ingenue, two women questing for a lost child, a lost world of peace in a war-torn landscape – I won’t tell you how their story ends. The prose poem form concentrates the writing – there is delight in individual pieces as well as in the whole, such as when Dame Blanche tells Ingenue how to conceal a razor blade in her mouth “The trick is to loosen the tongue so it floats like a little ship bobbing under the roof of your mouth. Open your lips. See, there’s a tiny stove on board from which smoke coils…” and in no time she is describing the breath forming rings, the rings slipping out of the mouth, the animals who were on board “ jump into the shallows round your tongue, clear the ridge of your bottom teeth, climbing over your lip”. The next prose poem in the sequence is about kisses and so one has magically loosened the tongue in the mouth. The next, after that, is a particularly difficult but powerful piece about war. Around the central story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue roam other stories, other characters, some characters return, and we learn more about them but, as in life, some we meet only once. The writing is intense, concentrated, memorable, and meaningful. As Moniza Alvi says on the back cover “it’s as if she presents us with an epic in a small space. To read it is to be challenged as well as enchanted”.

Robert Hamberger:

The True Story of Cowboy Hat & Ingénue is an intense, engrossing read in an original form. Maria Jastrzębska’s prose poem weaves an atmospheric love story alongside sharp and moving portrayals of queer communities under threat. These stories move skilfully through the terror of a continuous war, which can’t be wholly escaped or explained. The reader never quite knows where each paragraph (or stanza) will take us, and that’s part of the book’s adventure, as each visceral detail is wonderfully evoked. With Jastrzębska’s taut and compelling language never putting a foot wrong, I was rooting for Cowboy Hat and Ingenue to make it through.

Albert Camus:

Maria Jastrzębska is a Polish/English poet who always has her finger on the pulse and here she is questioning what prose and poetry are, inserting Spanish into an English narrative as if it was second nature. But she’s also a poet of conscience and while this story in poetry may have a playful title, it starts with genocide – and the horror of war is dotted through it. Carolyn Forché is quoted at the start, which is a hint to a reader that this is going to be an uncompromising ride. However, just consider the name of one of the central characters, Ingenue, for another hint – there’s subtle humour in this lesbian romance, the writer is playing with stereotypes as well as subverting the old Hollywood wild west narrative. Tune into this humour and you’ll be delighted at the sophistication of this storytelling. Interspersed with the play are passages so lyrical that you dream.