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Response & Bio Andrew Michael Roberts

Question #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?

One of the beautiful things about prose poetry is its elusive nature, its reluctance to be pinned down as purely narrative or imagistic or brief, etc. I think there is a certain freedom of form that draws many writers to a poetic prose, and to spend too much time trying to discern the difference between whether a piece is a prose poem or a flash fiction is to lose time a reader might better spend getting something out of the work that has been revealed to them.

Take 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? Clearly, Tate is, since he’s the author. To Tate, they are poems, and he even goes so far as to resist classifying what type of poems they are. I call them prose poems. Another reader may consider some of them flash fictions. So long as I am moved by something in the writing, and so long as the way it has been presented brings about what’s said in the most effective way possible, it doesn’t matter to me what they’re called.

As far as brevity is concerned, I think there is something quite powerful about getting so much message across in just enough space necessary to get the job done right. These limits are different for each poet. Some of Morton Marcus’s prose pieces flow over onto a second or third page, and he calls them prose poems. Fine with me. How can one assume a requirement of brevity—which is a completely relative term—in any poem? Length of a piece, to me, is governed by what the piece itself is trying to accomplish with its language. I place no restrictions on myself when sitting down to write. I want to be surprised.


Andrew Michael Roberts is poetry editor for The Portland Review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Quick Fiction, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, Cue: A Journal of Prose Poetry, HazMat Review and The Powhatan Review, among others. In the fall he will begin the MFA in Poetry program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.