site map

Response & Bio Dan Manchester

Question # 3) In considering similarities/differences between prose poems and flash fictions, Andrew Michael Roberts discusses James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk: “The book’s cover advertises the contents as poems, yet the line breaks are arbitrary, and many of the pieces are so narrative that one might consider them short fictions. Who’s to say?”

I’m reminded by this of David Lehman’s assertion in the introduction to his Great American Prose Poems anthology, only in slightly altered form, that “As soon as you admit the possibility that verse [the line/the line-break] is an adjunct of poetry and not an indispensable quality, the prose poem ceases to be a contradiction in terms.” Why can’t it go the other way then, so to speak, as Roberts seems to be suggesting above? If the line break is merely another tool in the writer’s belt, no different and no more or less utilitarian than, say, metaphor or the image or assonance, why should it not be employed as a fictive device if the occasion calls for it? We have so long had verse-dramas and prose-poems and (relatively) recently seen the rise of the novel-in-verse. This blurring of genre distinctions is, of course, not new, though the arguments surrounding them remain heated. Perhaps, though, we need simply to alter our thinking about them to allow for the not-at-all proverbial hyphen to be dropped. Why can’t these novels-in-verse be simply novels; their authors not be novelists-in-verse but novelists (they are, after all, fiction-makers by their own assertion); and why, again, not see the line-break there as a hiccup of writerly finesse, no different a choice in its precision or virtue than the choice on page 77 to have the dreaded alligator finally chomp down on the narrator’s/speaker’s arm or the choice to write that scene with the chosen 124 words that now make up the print on our newly-hypothetical page 77? And why, at last, not start it here in the short form, in its cramped and crowded spaces, where so many of the world’s revolutions have begun?


Dan Manchester’s work has appeared in Sentence, Quick Fiction, Good Foot, Poet Lore, Mississippi Review, Flyway, and elsewhere. His manuscript, Elegy for the Human Cannonball, was a finalist in 2004’s National Poetry Series. He currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife and their two mismatched dogs.