#1) In issue #3 of Double Room, Ron Silliman suggests
that it is erroneous to assume “that a signature feature of
the prose poem is its brevity.” He calls this misguided
assumption, Jacob’s fallacy, and he further argues that
considering the differences between the prose poem and the
flash fiction is “like trying to identify the border
between, say, Korean & Portuguese, similar insofar as each
is a language.” Do you agree with Silliman’s assessment?
In contrast, Ava Chin suggests that she wrote flash fiction
during a period when she was extremely overworked: “their
jarring method and brevity, their element of surprise, lent
themselves well to my shortened yet heightened attention span.” Chin
seems to suggest that the brevity aided and enabled a new kind
of invention for her. Do you think that prose poetry and flash
fiction do have some kind of compression or brevity as a related
characteristic? When you write in this form, the pp/ff, do
you place any space or length restrictions on yourself?
I have been told, often, that I couldn’t
write a short story if my life depended on it. I believe this,
anything that I write in a short prose form is a prose poem,
rather than flash fiction. I have this hazy idea that the interface
between flash fiction and the prose poem has something to do
with narrative. I am nostalgic for narrative. I miss it, and
wish it would return to my life in some fresh, nuanced form.
But I suspect when and if it does come it will come with a
knife, a la Brian Evenson.
Length is another matter. A prose poem can extend in a way
that flash fiction cannot? This seems axiomatic, though I distrust
axioms. My own prose poems are generally divided into what
I call strophes, not unlike ancient Greek or Hebrew poetry:
of varying lengths, ranging from a phrase or single sentence
to something like a prose paragraph. They build outward from
that unit. Most of mine are somewhere between half a page and
a page long, though some have gone on for five or even six
pages. Texture and pacing are crucial: sometimes a more extended
form holds up, sometimes not. I place no prescriptive limits.
Limit arises organically from form, and in the event.
Question #2) The work of Eduardo Galeano, suggests Ray Gonzalez
in Double Room #3, “challenges us to use language in
fresh ways, as we write brief prose, and says the writer of
and flash fictions can be experimental while grasping the traditional
concerns of our time. This means his short-short prose rises
above any poetic school or dogma and shows what happens when
a writer truly lets go of ego, stance, and the need to jockey
for position within the genre.” Do you think that this
notion of “letting go of ego” is a function of
the prose poem? How does this stripping of the ego change the
language of the poem? Is it a desirable effect? Ginger Knowlton
writes that a poem “has agency and life,” and it
tells you how it “wants to be read.” What role
does the ego—the lyric “I”—play in
your work, even if it means a total subversion of it? Can language
ever really be free of the ego? Is the prose poem/flash fiction
a form that lends itself to writing that is liberated from
For me, this question dowses in a meadow
that is essentially theological. I wouldn’t begin to know how to answer whether “this
notion of ‘letting go of ego’ is a function of
the prose poem.” I rather suspect that the function of
the prose poem is to be the prose poem. I suppose for some
poets “letting go of ego” could be a part of that
For me, “prose poetry” is
intimately tied to questions of voice. In that sense, ego
is not only unavoidable; it is
Question #3) Peter Richards recalls
having a bad reaction the first time he heard the term
flash fiction. He further
he is “suspicious of those efforts which seek to classify
literature according to a school, a movement, or worst of all
an aesthetic condition said to exist after Modernism.” Similarly,
Lisa Hargon-Smith feels “uncomfortable with the distinction
between a poem and a prose poem, fiction, walking, sitting,
the difference between one word and another and the difference
between how a poem is read out loud and how it looks on the
page.” Do you have similar discomforts and suspicions
about this form? Richards also suggests that genre designations
like this are “restrictive and promotional in nature.” Do
you agree or is there something about the flash fiction that
you find liberating or provocative?
I find methods of classification as necessary as they are
problematic: one must have some language with which to discuss.
I assume that any such language is provisional, exclusive (at
least in part), and fraught with attendant hypocrisies and
ambiguities. That is, I am suspicious of it, even as (on occasion)
I resort to it.
Such distinctions are indeed “restrictive and promotional
in nature” (simultaneously; I am delighted by Richards’s
choice of mated adjectives here).
Hargon-Smith’s argument is, in its broadest sense, one
for immanence, and should most charitably be understood as
such. I suppose I am, however, a conservative, as I still believe
that literature occurs primarily in terms of language. When
I walk, and often when I sit, I do so in silence, which lies
outside of language: unless bounded by language: and perceived
as such, i.e., as interval. There is a space—the invocatory,
or prayerful space—in which the silence of walking or
sitting and the noise of language-in-making are complementary.
But this is not, I think, what Hargon-Smith means.
Question #4) Lynn Kilpatrick writes: “poetry and narrative
are not opposed and that all writing is narrative in the sense
that once I put two words next to each other a relationship
begins to rise up between them.” Do you agree? That is,
to what extent do you think all writing is always already narrative?
In a somewhat similar impulse, Stephen Ratcliffe suggests the
following in relation to Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals: “(it
is) writing that transcribes actual things/actions/events in
the world as they were, or seemed to be in that present moment
of seeing/noting them. The writing in REAL tries to do something
of this 'translation' of world into words.” To what extent
is writing a narrative of the ‘real’? That is,
how are poetry and prose narratives translations of the world?
And, is Kilpatrick right in suggesting that poetry and narrative
are not as dialectical as some writers seem to suggest?
I strongly agree: the mere fact of juxtaposition within language
implies a narrative, however fleeting, however provisional,
Writing, then, cannot be non-narrative,
either in the act or in the result (the text). By the same
token, it cannot be
divorced from the “real,” aka the “world.” Language
inheres. It is the part which through its fragments and failures
defines the whole.
Question #5) Jamey Dunham states: “I write prose poems
because I believe the form of prose instinctively lends itself
techniques that most interest me in poetry.” What poetic
techniques do you find most interesting and instinctive in
the prose poem? Dunham further notes, “If one is to pull
off what Bly refers to as ‘leaping’ in a poem,
I think it is best to do so in a form that doesn’t accentuate
the penultimate step or point toward where it will land.” How
does the prose poem form enable this ambiguity that Dunham
suggests. For Laurel Snyder, “the process of crossing
genres (i.e. pp/ff)... changes the lens enough . . . (that
it) feels really productive. It changes the slant, the assumptions,
the way the work is read.” How does the pp/ff allow you
to make this “leap” in a way that remains ambiguous
and allows you to subvert previous assumptions?
For me, the prose poem creates something
like the proverbial level playing field: a text field in
which no single word or
phrase is privileged (by means of position within line or stanza,
though of course on occasion syntax provides a substitutionary
rubric). –Agreed, then, with the second of Dunham’s
quotes. Think “seamless garment,” or reasonable
I often think of my prose blocks, or strophes, as single long
lines. This is not uncommon, and certainly not original, but
it helps me to think about how the lyric impulse is operating
within my prose work. I am keenly aware of assonance and rhythm
(even scansion) within these strophes.
Question #6) “I like the invocation of the prose paragraph
by something that is not really prose,” writes Robert
Urquhart. He suggests that the prose poem is “like the
hummingbird moth’s eerie impersonation, or the sound
of the carriages of Frankfurt that Heidi mistook for the wind
in the pines on
her mountain.” For Urquhart, “The string of words
(in prose poetry) calls in question the relations among them,
where the line asserts these.” This is a somewhat different
take on the prose poem, which is often associated with a subversion
of both prose and poetry, but not as much as a rupture or fragmentation
of syntax and word relation as poems with line breaks. Instead,
Urquhart seems to suggest that the prose poem calls into question
syntax and word relations more than verse. Karla Kelsey’s
response to this genre seems to enact the very suggestion Urquhart
makes: “Why is not a poem, it is the pause of the poem,
the slowing into connectors--in the prose poem the Why seeps
into a particular How of a particular form, turning the form
into a logical box that the sound the word the line exceeds.” In
what ways do you think the prose poem enables disrupted and
ruptured syntax? How does the prose poem call into question
relations among words?
I like the idea that the form of a prose poem somehow demands
relation between ideas, images, and words, while verse in lines
asserts such relation. There is something appealingly needy
about the prose poem. It takes your hand like a child in a
Dickensian workhouse. It wants to be carried away, and in doing
so, consume you.
For me, the prose poem “calls into question relations
among words” at the very basic level of adopting the
sober scrivener’s mask of prose. Linearity, even narrative,
is implied through the very form, as in Joyce’s novels
etc. The prose poem practices its disjunctures within a text
field that promises dialectic at the very least. It is essentially
a trickster form, as such related to the parable.
Question #7) Ron Silliman also
argues that “A work without
genre makes no sense – not simply because the term is
derived from genus, the root for kind, but because to achieve
a state a work would have to cancel out or erase its own sense
of form & integrity as it proceeded, constantly dissolving
before the reader, & that of itself would constitute its
genre.” Can we have a writing that is free from genre
distinctions or would it constantly dissolve for the reader
in ways that Silliman suggests? That is, would even this dissolution
constitute a genre? Moreover, do you feel that by writing prose
poems or flash fictions you are consciously resisting certain
social divisions and hierarchies manifested in generic literary
distinctions? That is, does this form enable (perhaps require)
you to make a political statement about form and genre?
My sympathies are more with than against
categorizing. It seems to me that any attempt at escaping genre,
however well-intentioned and even necessary, will ultimately
fall somewhere along the continuum of heterogeneity -> hybridity
-> new genre. The lyric essay is a recent case in point.
While I like very much the idea of challenging or transcending
existing genre distinctions, I find the idea of transcending
genre distinctions qua genre distinctions rather meaningless.
Like all distinctions and definitions, our present understandings
of genre are mutable. They exist at any given historical moment
as a provisional stasis.
I am generally not interested in “generic literary distinctions” because “generic
literary distinctions” are generally not interested in
me. This lack of interest is itself, of course, political.
Literary conventions (form, genre) are best critiqued by work
that eludes, transcends, transforms, or explodes them. I would
much rather explore the wealth of contemporary work that is
engaged in this (from Raul Zurita to Thalia Field) than capitulate
to the very idea of “generic literary distinctions” by
G.C. Waldrep’s first book of poetry, Goldbeater’s
Skin, contains exactly one prose poem, or possibly two given
a generous definition. In penance he is now working on a new
manuscript, Archicembalo, composed almost entirely of prose
poems, or poems in prose. It makes him happy and keeps him
occupied, both of which are good things.