site map
Response & Bio Chris Arigo

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?

I have to agree with Silliman because in general I have difficulty in discerning any blanket characteristics about prose poems that apply to all prose poems. Personally, the reason I find I’m drawn to this mode of writing is the shape of the poems on the page. These “blocks” of text have such a neatly-packed feeling---much like a stone wall. The process, to belabor the metaphor, gives such immediate satisfaction, much like the satisfaction of finding several random stones that fit together well. This visual characteristic allows for some aggressive play with the white space of the page as well.


I don’t personally impose any restrictions on myself when operating in this mode. however, as with any choice---of word or phrase or form---the choice leads to a series of revelations or restrictions---perhaps they are the same thing. I have no difficulty imagining a four page prose poem…but I have a funny feeling many people would consider it a short story…

Questions #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 prose poetry 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 the ego?

I admire Gonzalez’s idealism. Yet I can’t fully agree with it. What he seems to address is the issue of the pox-biz and how the prose poem can liberate us from its clutches. If only.


As to the issue of ego: I agree with Rosmarie Waldrop when she says in her essay, “Thinking of Follows,” that “[y]our concerns and obsessions will surface no matter what you do”--- a sentiment echoing Tristan Tzara’s exhortation that “[t]he poem will resemble you.” My feelings exactly. Any piece of writing comes from the self. Eliminating the ego seems like a pretty futile endeavor, unless one is trying to achieve Nirvana (in which case, there would be no need to write poems). I’ve always thought of my own work as striving to shun egocentrism (i.e. autobiographical detail) but this too is virtually impossible. However, I don’t think that the prose poem automatically suggests that the writer has left his or her ego at the door.

Question #3) Peter Richards recalls having a bad reaction the first time he heard the term flash fiction. He further notes that 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 too get suspicious when folks start bandying about genre because most great writing ignores, surpasses, blurs these classifications. That said, I think the impulse behind the attempts to classify arises from the fact that these chunks of text---whether prose poem or flash fiction---exist in a haze, floating somewhere between line breaks and lack thereof. I know this is a bit overly simplistic on my part…Biologically, the human mind seeks patterns, and prose poems historically have created a visual impression and now the time comes to ask: how to articulate these patterns? After Modernism literature fractured and pixilated into so many units that the urge to classify is often/usually frustrated. Historically, the prose poem is very young---much in the same way the novel is. As a result, the most radial pressure put on the genre has occurred fairly recently. These radical shifts require our scrutiny, not necessarily our classifying them.

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 have to agree completely with Lynn…the term‘ narrative’ generally provokes an automatic response, similar to that of hackle-raising. I prefer the term‘ translation’. My discomfort stems from the often-seen polarity among poets of the narrative vs. non-narrative camps. I am still waiting for a boxing match. This could also explain some folk’s discomfort with the term flash fiction---it seems that the designation really comes from this: if one mostly writes fiction, then these nebulous pieces one writes must be flash fiction. If one is a poet and eschews line breaks…

Question #5) Jamey Dunham states: “I write prose poems because I believe the form of prose instinctively lends itself to the 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?

I am definitely attracted to the visual density of the prose poem---there’s so much potential in those chunks of words! Instinctively, when I write in this mode, I tend to write in a more linear way---initially. But then the real fun starts and I slowly eliminate what I see as unnecessary threads. Then, a certain ambiguity surfaces. I don’t want any of my poems to ‘land’. I prefer to think of them as hovering. If this subverts any assumptions, then I am glad.

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?

More than verse? I’m not so sure, but the idea seems to hearken back to subverting form, syntax, etc. Because the prose poem looks like prose to some degree, many readers will assume certain things. An effective prose poem---or any effective poem---is often a series of curve balls, a rapid series of “what comes next?”

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 such 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?

I’m completely with Silliman---any poem worth its words should constantly recreate genre, as well as recreating itself, which would generate its on genreless genre.


Christopher Arigo’s first poetry collection, Lit interim, won the Transcontinetal Poetry Prize (selected by David Bromige) and was published by Pavement Saw Press (2003). His poems and poetry
reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous
publications including Pleiedes, Fourteen Hills,
and Colorado Review.