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Response & Bio F. Daniel Rzicznek

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?”

At a writing festival I attended recently there was a panel discussion on prose poems and flash fictions where the facilitators and attendees spent a good half an hour tossing around different definitions, gingerly inching forward to some clear-cut idea of what separates prose poems and flash fictions from one another, as well as the larger realms of poetry, prose, and nonfiction. Having become exasperated, I spoke out: “Does anybody care what it’s called if it’s shit?” I could hear the vents above me creaking for a moment, until the conversation resumed, lightly skipping over my intrusion. I don’t blame them. The remark was hasty, flippant, obvious, and in a way, attempted to derail the conversation into a false resolution. But I think I’m right. Definitions of the prose poem are widening all the time. Often, any attempts at definition are ultra-dependent on the facts surrounding the author. I recently read a piece of criticism where Larry Levis’ Black Freckles (shamefully out of print) was referred to as a series of long prose poems inclined toward narrative. Levis’ reputation relies almost exclusively on his poems, but he himself dubbed the pieces in Black Freckles short stories. To my mind, what’s most important about the book (and ultimately, any book) is that the pieces are successful in their forms— even if we (or the author or editor) chose not to name those forms. Anthologies such as The Party Train have gone so far as to include Hawthorne, Thoreau, Stein, Hemingway, and other writers as trailblazers of the prose poem in American literature. The prose poem? Each of the writers named above is best known for their fiction (with the exception of Stein, whose work still delightfully defies categorization.) Here comes the original question again: who’s to say? Here’s another question: what’s more important, that we are able to clearly and articulately bag and tag every chunk of prose (or poetry, for that matter) we read or write, or that we know what the work, the art, is asking of us? Is each prose poem or flash fiction or whatever name you want to use, a factory-fresh can of worms? Indeed. I hope they’re beautiful worms, glowing and singing....


F. Daniel Rzicznek is currently completing his MFA in poetry at Bowling Green State University, where he is also assistant poetry editor for Mid-American Review. His prose poems have appeared in Meridian, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, and, Quick Fiction.