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Response & Bio Christine Boyka Kluge
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 shouldn't assume that a prose poem has to be brief, just as one doesn't assume that a "regular" poem must end within haiku limitations or be confined to a paragraph or a page. Although I think of prose poetry as a compressed form, relish traveling a long distance within a small space, love the intensity and distillation of its language and ideas, prose poetry should be allowed that potential for expansion. No one arches an eyebrow at the possibility of a book-length poem--okay, maybe a few people do--so why place length restrictions on a prose poem? I don't want to burden myself with artificial limitations, so who's to say I won't write a 100 page prose poem someday? (Imagine sustaining that focus...) An impertinent piece might just demand a fifty room estate because it can't let go of any priceless belongings.

On the other hand, to me, the word "flash" in flash fiction does indicate some form of brevity. The terms micro-fiction, short short, sudden fiction, and quick fiction all sound like terms for brief forms. Where the cut-off points lie between flash fiction and short fiction, short fiction and fiction, I don't know...and don't particularly care. I believe that writers should work without arbitrary rules; that they should let their work reach whatever finish line appears when the piece is done. They should focus on the nature of what fills the container, not the shape or size of the goblet or glass slipper. In other words, does the writing sparkle on the tongue? (Is it fizzy like champagne, or fizzy like spoiled peaches?)

When I write, I never plan what form each piece will take at the outset. I usually start out with a particular image/detail or line, and then let the work reveal itself from there. I put no space, length or category limits on it. If I were to cram a growing work into a tiny cage, tamp it into a space the size of a velvet-lined ring box, would that make it more precious, or just more compact? Spare and elegant...or crippled? Word counts risk distorting natural language into a bound foot or a redwood bonsai. (Wait...that's intriguing...this is starting to sound like a vote for brevity....) Curious, I just did a word count of my prose poems and flash fiction pieces. The average was 258 words per work. The shortest was only 75 words, the longest was 639. Pretty much, all by themselves, they stayed to one page or less, single-spaced.

As one experiments with "new" combinations of genres, hybrids of hybrids, not just various perches on the spectrum between prose poetry and flash fiction, the size issue becomes more muddled. Lately, I've been writing works that mix elements of prose poetry, creative nonfiction, lyric essay, flash fiction, and memoir. My thought? Keep it open-ended, don't be afraid to shuffle, see what evolves.

This attitude pushes me to leap to the last part of the last question, #7: "Does this form enable (perhaps require) you to make a political statement about form and genre?"

As in, do I feel compelled to embroider "Don't Tread on Me" on my flag? As in, do I see myself in the role of liberated writer, a folk artist shaping my beautiful bottle cap and mud sculptures, eyes spinning like happy pinwheels, turning my back on conventional ideas and rules? Maybe. When I first sent out prose poetry / flash fiction in hope of publication, some of the responses I received made me both laugh and sigh. "These pieces seem caught between poetry and fiction." Oh...really? "I don't really care for this form." Sound of a door clicking shut. (This from an editor whose own work later appeared in an anthology of flash fiction.) So, do I feel like a rebel? Do I feel like I'm slapping the face of the literary establishment, penning pieces like angry letters to narrow-minded arbiters of taste? Hmmm. Not really, especially since both prose poems and flash fiction have grown more acceptable, less outsider genres. I feel more like I'm passionate about what I'm doing, whatever it is, and want to share it. I feel like I fell in love with hybrid genres, that these more open, malleable forms grant me freedom, permission to wick the unconscious, to write wilder, more organic works. (That might be just my own perception.) For me, all writing should be something pure and true--individual--and shouldn't be molded to fit the expectations and limits of others.

Now, please jump back with me to question #5, which includes this statement by Jamey Dunham: "I write prose poems because I believe the form of prose instinctively lends itself to the techniques that most interest me in poetry." I'll answer this sub-question: "What poetic techniques do you find most interesting and instinctive in the prose poem?" favorite, my passion: metaphor--in particular, metaphor sustained throughout the prose poem, binding it with vivid clarity and unexpected connections. Imagery...again, as an artist, creating that visual emphasis with words is intuitive and thrilling. I love the density of images working together, odd juxtapositions giving off sparks. Another technique: use of "deep images," ones that pop to the surface, carrying the scent of other levels of meaning, a sense of a more expansive picture, a path of bobbing steppingstones to lead the reader farther into the piece. Prose poetry welcomes the captured lyric moment, personification, occasional hyperbole. As in poetry, I also use rhythm and sound to carry the piece forward, to give it human emotion and breath, musicality. I use assonance, dissonance, hidden rhyme, syncopation, whatever elements enhance the piece, fit naturally, match emotionally. Since I feel more like a poet than a fiction writer, I tend to write significantly more prose poems than flash fiction pieces.


Christine Boyka Kluge's first book of poetry, Teaching Bones to Fly, was published by Bitter Oleander Press in December 2003. Her chapbook, Domestic Weather, winner of the 2003 Uccelli Press Chapbook Contest, will be published this June. Her writing has received several Pushcart Prize nominations, and was given the 1999 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. In 2003, her work was anthologized in No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets (Tupelo Press); (Some from) Diagram (Del Sol Press); and Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction (Mammoth Books). Her writing also appears in The Bitter Oleander, Hotel Amerika, Luna, Natural Bridge, Quarter After Eight, Quarterly West, Sentence, and other publications.