site map
Response & Bio G.C. Waldrep
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 been told, often, that I couldn’t write a short story if my life depended on it. I believe this, and therefore anything that I write in a short prose form is a prose poem, rather than flash fiction. I have this hazy idea that the interface between flash fiction and the prose poem has something to do with narrative. I am nostalgic for narrative. I miss it, and wish it would return to my life in some fresh, nuanced form. But I suspect when and if it does come it will come with a knife, a la Brian Evenson.

Length is another matter. A prose poem can extend in a way that flash fiction cannot? This seems axiomatic, though I distrust axioms. My own prose poems are generally divided into what I call strophes, not unlike ancient Greek or Hebrew poetry: of varying lengths, ranging from a phrase or single sentence to something like a prose paragraph. They build outward from that unit. Most of mine are somewhere between half a page and a page long, though some have gone on for five or even six pages. Texture and pacing are crucial: sometimes a more extended form holds up, sometimes not. I place no prescriptive limits. Limit arises organically from form, and in the event.

Question #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?

For me, this question dowses in a meadow that is essentially theological. I wouldn’t begin to know how to answer whether “this notion of ‘letting go of ego’ is a function of the prose poem.” I rather suspect that the function of the prose poem is to be the prose poem. I suppose for some poets “letting go of ego” could be a part of that function.

For me, “prose poetry” is intimately tied to questions of voice. In that sense, ego is not only unavoidable; it is indispensable.

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 find methods of classification as necessary as they are problematic: one must have some language with which to discuss. I assume that any such language is provisional, exclusive (at least in part), and fraught with attendant hypocrisies and ambiguities. That is, I am suspicious of it, even as (on occasion) I resort to it.

Such distinctions are indeed “restrictive and promotional in nature” (simultaneously; I am delighted by Richards’s choice of mated adjectives here).

Hargon-Smith’s argument is, in its broadest sense, one for immanence, and should most charitably be understood as such. I suppose I am, however, a conservative, as I still believe that literature occurs primarily in terms of language. When I walk, and often when I sit, I do so in silence, which lies outside of language: unless bounded by language: and perceived as such, i.e., as interval. There is a space—the invocatory, or prayerful space—in which the silence of walking or sitting and the noise of language-in-making are complementary. But this is not, I think, what Hargon-Smith means.

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 strongly agree: the mere fact of juxtaposition within language implies a narrative, however fleeting, however provisional, however meta.

Writing, then, cannot be non-narrative, either in the act or in the result (the text). By the same token, it cannot be divorced from the “real,” aka the “world.” Language inheres. It is the part which through its fragments and failures defines the whole.

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?

For me, the prose poem creates something like the proverbial level playing field: a text field in which no single word or phrase is privileged (by means of position within line or stanza, though of course on occasion syntax provides a substitutionary rubric). –Agreed, then, with the second of Dunham’s quotes. Think “seamless garment,” or reasonable approximation thereof.

I often think of my prose blocks, or strophes, as single long lines. This is not uncommon, and certainly not original, but it helps me to think about how the lyric impulse is operating within my prose work. I am keenly aware of assonance and rhythm (even scansion) within these strophes.

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?

I like the idea that the form of a prose poem somehow demands relation between ideas, images, and words, while verse in lines asserts such relation. There is something appealingly needy about the prose poem. It takes your hand like a child in a Dickensian workhouse. It wants to be carried away, and in doing so, consume you.

For me, the prose poem “calls into question relations among words” at the very basic level of adopting the sober scrivener’s mask of prose. Linearity, even narrative, is implied through the very form, as in Joyce’s novels etc. The prose poem practices its disjunctures within a text field that promises dialectic at the very least. It is essentially a trickster form, as such related to the parable.

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?

My sympathies are more with than against Silliman’s categorizing. It seems to me that any attempt at escaping genre, however well-intentioned and even necessary, will ultimately fall somewhere along the continuum of heterogeneity -> hybridity -> new genre. The lyric essay is a recent case in point.

While I like very much the idea of challenging or transcending existing genre distinctions, I find the idea of transcending genre distinctions qua genre distinctions rather meaningless. Like all distinctions and definitions, our present understandings of genre are mutable. They exist at any given historical moment as a provisional stasis.

I am generally not interested in “generic literary distinctions” because “generic literary distinctions” are generally not interested in me. This lack of interest is itself, of course, political. Literary conventions (form, genre) are best critiqued by work that eludes, transcends, transforms, or explodes them. I would much rather explore the wealth of contemporary work that is engaged in this (from Raul Zurita to Thalia Field) than capitulate to the very idea of “generic literary distinctions” by invoking same.


G.C. Waldrep’s first book of poetry, Goldbeater’s Skin, contains exactly one prose poem, or possibly two given a generous definition. In penance he is now working on a new manuscript, Archicembalo, composed almost entirely of prose poems, or poems in prose. It makes him happy and keeps him occupied, both of which are good things.